Yellow ribbon, Kidney awareness month

A Guide to Kidney Cancer


Kidney cancer is the 14th most commonly occurring cancer across the world. Over the past few years, the incidence of kidney cancer has been increasing.

Kidney cancer is a type of cancer that begins in your kidneys. It is characterized by abnormal growth and multiplication of cells in your kidney tissues. These cells gradually form an abnormal mass over time, known as a tumor.

Kidneys are two-bean shaped organs that are located on either side of your spine, below your ribcage. Their main function is to eliminate waste products from the body and maintain fluid balance. Kidney cancer can develop in both adults and children. There are two main types of kidney cancer: Renal cell carcinoma, which is the most common type in adults, accounting for 85% of all kidney cancers, and Wilm’s tumor, which is the most common type of kidney cancer among children.

Like any other cancer, kidney cancer is also associated with several risk factors and certain steps can be taken to lower your risk. Let us understand a little more in detail about kidney cancer.

Symptoms of kidney cancer

Kidney cancer often does not show symptoms in early stages, but as the disease progresses, some of the following symptoms may develop:

  • Presence of blood in the urine (hematuria)
  • Lower back pain on one side which is not caused by injury
  • Tiredness and weakness
  • Loss of appetite
  • Unintentional weight loss
  • A lump or a mass on the lower back or side
  • Increase in blood pressure
  • Fever without an underlying infection
  • Fever that does not subside
  • Low red blood cell count (anemia)

Causes of kidney cancer

Although there are no definitive causes for kidney cancer, it can occur due to the following factors:

  • Changes in genes affecting normal functioning of cells.
  • Inherited cancer causing DNA changes running in the family.
  • Changes in genes that occur at some point in a person’s lifetime.

Risk factors of kidney cancer

  • Older age: As your age increases, your chances of developing kidney cancer increases.
  • Obesity: People who are overweight may be at a higher risk than people with a healthy weight, as obesity can cause certain hormonal changes which can lead to kidney cancer.
  • Smoking: Smokers are at a higher risk of developing kidney cancer than non-smokers. Additionally, the longer you smoke the greater is your risk.
  • High blood pressure: High blood pressure (hypertension), increases the risk of kidney cancer, even in people who are on medications to lower blood pressure.
  • Family history: If you have a strong family history of kidney cancer, you are at high risk of kidney cancer and your risk is the highest if you have a brother or sister with cancer.
  • Advanced kidney disease: People who are under treatment for chronic kidney diseases, especially people undergoing dialysis, are at an increased risk of kidney cancer.
  • Certain medications: Common pain medications such as acetaminophen have been linked to increased risk of kidney cancer.
  • Inherited syndromes: Certain inherited medical conditions which cause DNA changes, increase the risk of kidney cancer.

Diagnosis of kidney cancer

Kidney cancer is diagnosed based on signs and symptoms, laboratory tests and imaging tests. Kidney cancer diagnosis includes:

  • Medical history and physical examination
  • Your doctor will take a thorough medical history to assess your risk factors and understand your symptoms in detail. Your doctor will also physically examine your body and belly for any abnormal lumps. If your signs are suggestive of kidney cancer, further testing will be recommended.

  • Blood and urine tests
  • Your urine sample will be tested to check for any traces of blood. Your blood sample will be tested to assess your blood cell count and essential minerals. This determines if your kidney functioning is impaired.

  • Imaging tests
  • Ultrasound, Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI), and Computer Tomography (CT) scans are taken to get more detailed images of your tumor.

  • Biopsy
  • Sometimes, a small tissue sample may be taken from a suspicious area in your kidneys, to test this sample for cancer cells. This is known as a biopsy.

Treatment of kidney cancer

Treatment of kidney cancer is based on the stage of cancer, the type of cancer, age of the patient and overall health condition. Treatment may include surgery to remove the affected kidney if cancer has spread to the entire kidney, or surgery to remove a part of the kidney which contains the tumor. Other treatments may include chemotherapy, radiotherapy, immunotherapy, and targeted therapy.

Prevention of kidney cancer

Some ways to reduce your risk of kidney cancer include:

  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Get regular physical exercise
  • Quit smoking
  • Avoid exposure to harmful chemicals
  • Control your blood pressure

Find out more about kidney cancer treatment here

Dr MuthuKumar P
Dr MuthuKumar P
M.B.B.S, M.D (General Medicine), D.M (Nephrology)
Senior Consultant Nephrologist and Transplant Physician
Department of Nephrology

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