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About kidney cancer

Kidney cancer, also called renal cancer, is the eighth most common cancer diagnosed in the United States. According to the American Cancer Society, 73,750 Americans will be diagnosed with kidney cancer in 2020. More than 4 percent of all new cancers diagnosed are kidney cancers, according to the National Cancer Institute (NCI).

Why is kidney cancer also called renal cancer?

The kidneys are a pair of bean-shaped organs located on either side of the spine, protected by the lower ribcage. Although the body has two kidneys, only part of one kidney is necessary to function. The main job of the kidneys is to filter blood and remove excess water, salt and other substances from the body. Most of these fluids run though tubes called renal tubules, which filter fluids in the kidney before the waste (urine) is discharged into the bladder. Most kidney tumors form when the cells that line these tubules, renal cells, mutate and grow out of control. Renal cell carcinoma is the most common type of kidney cancer.

Risk factors for kidney cancer include:

  • Obesity
  • Smoking
  • Kidney dialysis
  • High blood pressure
  • A family history of kidney cancer or kidney disease

Learn more about risk factors for kidney cancer

Who gets kidney cancer?

As with most cancers, the risk for developing kidney cancer increases with age. According to the National Cancer Institute:

  • The average age of a person diagnosed with kidney cancer is 64.
  • The average age of a person who dies from kidney cancer is 71.
  • Seventy-five percent of all new cases of kidney cancer are diagnosed in people 55 and older.
  • Men have twice the risk of developing kidney cancer than women.

Get kidney cancer survival statistics and treatment results

Kidney cancer types

More than 90 percent of all kidney tumors are renal cell carcinomas. Subtypes of renal cell carcinomas include:

  • Clear cell RCC
  • Papillary RCC
  • Chromophobe RCC
  • Collecting duct RCC
  • Unclassified RCC

Other types of kidney cancer include:

  • Transitional cell carcinoma
  • Renal sarcoma

Metastatic renal cancer occurs when the cancer has spread from the kidney into lymph nodes or distant organs, such as the liver, lungs or bladder.

Learn more about kidney cancer types

Kidney cancer symptoms

In its early stages, renal cancer may not develop any symptoms. In many cases, early-stage kidney cancer is discovered during an X-ray or other imaging procedure to diagnose another condition.

Warning signs of kidney cancer may include:

  • Fatigue
  • Lower back pain or pressure
  • A lump or mass on the lower back
  • Enlarged testicles
  • Swelling in the legs or ankles
  • Anemia

Learn more about kidney cancer symptoms

Kidney cancer diagnostics

A variety of tests and procedures may be used to diagnose kidney cancer. They include:

  • Biopsy, a minor surgical procedure to extract a sample of a tumor
  • Lab tests, including advanced genomic testing and urinalysis
  • Imaging tests, especially a CT scan, PET/CT scan or MRI

Learn more about diagnostic procedures for kidney cancer

Treating kidney cancer

Surgery is the first-line treatment option for most patients with renal cell carcinoma. Other treatment options include:

  • Chemotherapy
  • Radiation therapy
  • Targeted therapy
  • Immunotherapy

Learn more about treatment options for kidney cancer

Next topic: What are the risk factors for kidney cancer?

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