Kidney cancer 

Introduction 

What do our kidneys do?

The kidneys filter waste products from the blood before turning it to urine. This video explains in detail how the kidneys function.

Media last reviewed: 15/11/2013

Next review due: 15/11/2015

Living with kidney cancer

Kidney cancer can affect your daily life in different ways, depending on what stage it is at and what treatment you are having. How people cope with their diagnosis and treatment varies from person to person. 

Advice and support is available if you need it.

Want to know more?

Kidney cancer is the eighth most common cancer in adults in the UK. About 9,300 people are diagnosed with kidney cancer each year.

Signs and symptoms of kidney cancer can include:

  • blood in your urine
  • a constant pain below your ribs
  • a lump in your abdomen (tummy)

If you notice any of these symptoms, see a GP as soon as possible. Your GP can examine you for signs of kidney cancer and may refer you to a specialist clinic for further tests.

However, in around half of cases there are no symptoms and the cancer is detected during tests for other unrelated conditions

Read more about the symptoms of kidney cancer and diagnosing kidney cancer.

The kidneys are two bean-shaped organs located on either side of the body, just underneath the ribcage. The main role of the kidneys is to filter out waste products from the blood and to produce urine. Usually, only one of the kidneys is affected by cancer.

Our bodies are made up of billions of tiny cells. Normally, cells grow and multiply in an orderly way. New cells are only made when and where they are needed. In cancer, this orderly process goes wrong and cells begin to grow and multiply uncontrollably.

Although the exact cause of kidney cancer is unknown, there are certain risk factors that can increase the chances of the condition developing, such as smoking and obesity.

Kidney cancer most frequently affects people over 50 years of age and is more common among men.

Read more about the causes of kidney cancer.

Types of kidney cancer

There are a number of different types of cancer than can affect the kidneys. The most common type is known as renal cell carcinoma (RCC), which accounts for more than 80% of all kidney cancers.

Rarer types of kidney cancer include:

  • transitional cell cancer: develops in the lining of the kidneys and usually affects men who are 50 years of age or over
  • Wilms’ tumour: a rare type of kidney cancer that affects children

This article focuses on renal cell carcinoma. See the Cancer Research UK website for more information about transitional cell cancer and Wilms’ tumour.

How is kidney cancer treated?

The treatment of kidney cancer depends on the size and spread of the cancer. Most commonly, surgery is the first course of action, with the aim of removing the cancer cells.

Unlike most other cancers, chemotherapy is not very effective in treating kidney cancer. There are, however, non-surgical treatments available, such as radiotherapy or targeted drug therapies. These are most commonly used when the kidney cancer is advanced, so has spread beyond the kidney.

Read more about treating kidney cancer.

Outlook

The outlook for kidney cancer is usually good if the condition is diagnosed in its early stages, when the cancer is still contained inside the kidney. This is because it is usually possible to completely cure the cancer by removing some or all of the kidney, as it is possible to live a healthy life with only one kidney. About one in three cases of kidney cancer are diagnosed at an early stage.

Depending on how aggressive the cancer is, 65-90% of people will live at least five years after receiving an early diagnosis of kidney cancer, with many people living much longer.

The outlook for kidney cancer that has spread outside the kidney is less favourable. An estimated 40-70% of people with this type of kidney cancer will live at least five years after receiving a diagnosis.

If the kidney cancer is advanced and  has spread to other parts of the body, only 1 in 10 people will live for at least five years after receiving a diagnosis.




Page last reviewed: 16/08/2012

Next review due: 16/08/2014

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