Introduction 

Kidney cancer is the eighth most common cancer in adults in the UK, with just over 10,100 people diagnosed each year.

Signs and symptoms of kidney cancer can include:

  • blood in your urine 
  • a constant pain in your side, just below the ribs
  • a lump or swelling in the kidney area (on either side of the body)

See your GP as soon as possible if you experience any of these symptoms. They will examine you and may refer you to a specialist clinic for further tests.

In around half of all cases of kidney cancer there are no symptoms, and the condition is detected during tests for other unrelated conditions.

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

The kidneys and cancer

The kidneys are two bean-shaped organs located on either side of the body, just underneath the ribcage.

Their main role is to filter out waste products from the blood, in addition to producing urine. Only one of the kidneys is usually affected by cancer.

The human body is made up of billions of cells, which normally grow and multiply in an orderly way, with new cells being created only when and where they're needed. In cancer, this orderly process goes wrong and cells begin to grow and multiply uncontrollably.

Exactly what triggers this growth is unknown; however, 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

Many different types of cancer can affect the kidneys. The most common type is 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 topic focuses on RCC. See the Cancer Research UK website for more information about transitional cell cancer and Wilms’ tumour.

Treating kidney cancer

The earlier kidney cancer is diagnosed, the easier it is to treat.

How it's treated will depend on the size and spread of the cancer. Surgery to remove the cancerous cells is usually the first course of action.

Unlike most other cancers, chemotherapy isn't very effective at treating kidney cancer. However, non-surgical treatments are available, such as radiotherapy or targeted therapies. These are most commonly used in the more advanced stages of kidney cancer, when the cancer has spread beyond the kidney.

Read more about treating kidney cancer.

Preventing kidney cancer

As the causes of kidney cancer aren't fully understood, it's not possible to fully prevent it.

However, leading a healthy lifestyle may reduce the chances of developing the condition. A combination of a healthy diet and regular exercise will help to avoid becoming overweight or obese, which is a significant risk factor for kidney cancer.

If you're overweight or obese, you can lose weight and maintain a healthy weight by combining regular exercise with a calorie-controlled diet.

Read more about treating obesity.

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.

Kidney cancer can often be completely cured by removing some or all of the kidney. This is because it's possible to live a healthy life with only one kidney. Around 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's spread outside the kidney is less favourable. Around 40-70% of people with this stage of kidney cancer will live at least five years after receiving a diagnosis.

In cases where kidney cancer is advanced and has spread to other parts of the body, only around 10% of people will live for at least five years after receiving a diagnosis.




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's at and what treatment you're having.

How people cope with their diagnosis and treatment varies from person to person.

Read more about living with cancer.

Advice and support is also available if you need it from the organisations listed below:

Cancer

Key messages about cancer, with links to fact sheets on all the different types

Page last reviewed: 17/10/2014

Next review due: 17/10/2016