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 and is rare in people under 50.
It can often be cured if it's caught early. But a cure probably won't be possible if it's not diagnosed until 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 more 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 picked up during tests carried out for another reason.
If symptoms do occur, they can include:
- blood in your pee – you may notice your pee is darker than normal 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 your GP if you have symptoms of kidney cancer.
Although it's unlikely you have cancer, it's important to get your symptoms checked out.
Your 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 can 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 developing it:
- obesity – a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or more; use the healthy weight calculator to work out 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
- genetic conditions – some inherited genetic conditions increase the risk of kidney cancer, such as Von Hippel-Lindau syndrome
- long-term dialysis – a treatment for kidney disease where a machine replicates some of the jobs of the kidneys
Maintaining a healthy weight, a healthy blood pressure and not smoking is the best way to reduce your risk of 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 the 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 – medications 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 hasn't spread beyond the kidney, surgery can often cure it. Some small, slow growing cancers may not need treatment at first.
A cure isn't usually possible if the cancer has spread, although treatment can sometimes help keep it under control. Some people become ill quickly, but others may live for several years and feel well despite their cancer.
Overall, around 7 in every 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 if you need it from these organisations:
Page last reviewed: 12 December 2016
Next review due: 12 December 2019