Kidney cancer, also called renal cancer, is one of the most common types of cancer in the UK.
It usually affects adults in their 60s or 70s. It is rare in people under 50.
It can often be cured if it's found early. But a cure will probably not be possible if it's diagnosed after it has spread beyond the kidney.
There are several types of kidney cancer. These pages focus on the most common type – renal cell carcinoma.
The Cancer Research UK website has information about other types of kidney cancer.
Symptoms of kidney cancer
In many cases, there are no obvious symptoms at first and kidney cancer may only be found during tests for another condition or reason.
If there are symptoms, they can include:
- blood in your pee – you may notice your pee is darker than usual or reddish in colour
- a persistent pain in your lower back or side, just below your ribs
- a lump or swelling in your side (although kidney cancer is often too small to feel)
When to get medical advice
See a GP if you have symptoms of kidney cancer.
Although it's unlikely you have cancer, it's important to get your symptoms checked out.
The GP will ask about your symptoms and may test a sample of your urine to see if it contains blood or an infection.
If necessary, they may refer you to a hospital specialist for further tests to find out what the problem is.
Causes of kidney cancer
The exact cause of kidney cancer is unknown, but some things can increase your chances of getting it, including:
- obesity – a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or more (use the healthy weight calculator to find your BMI)
- smoking – the more you smoke, the greater the risk
- high blood pressure (hypertension)
- family history – you're more likely to get kidney cancer if you have a close relative with it
- some inherited genetic conditions
- long-term dialysis – a treatment for chronic kidney disease where a machine does some of the jobs of the kidneys
Keeping to a healthy weight, a healthy blood pressure and not smoking is the best way to reduce your chances of getting kidney cancer.
Treatments for kidney cancer
The treatment for kidney cancer depends on the size of the cancer and whether it has spread to other parts of your body.
The main treatments are:
- surgery to remove part or all of the affected kidney – this is the main treatment for most people
- cryotherapy or radiofrequency ablation – where the cancerous cells are destroyed by freezing or heating
- biological therapies – medicines that help stop the cancer growing or spreading
- embolisation – a procedure to cut off the blood supply to the cancer
- radiotherapy – using high-energy radiation to target cancer cells and relieve symptoms
Outlook for kidney cancer
The outlook for kidney cancer largely depends on how big the tumour is and how far it has spread by the time it's diagnosed.
If the cancer is still small and has not spread beyond the kidney, surgery can often cure it. Some small, slow growing cancers may not need treatment at first.
A cure is not usually possible if the cancer has spread, although treatment can sometimes help keep it under control. Some people become unwell quickly, but others may live for several years and feel well despite having kidney cancer.
Around 7 in 10 people live at least a year after diagnosis and around 5 in 10 live at least 10 years.
Cancer Research UK has more information about survival statistics for kidney cancer.
Support groups and charities
Further information, advice and support is available from:
Page last reviewed: 3 December 2019
Next review due: 3 December 2022