Kidney Cancer Symptoms

What Is Kidney Cancer?

Kidney cancer occurs when cells in the kidneys start to grow at an uncontrollable pace [1]. They can grow to form a lump, known as a tumor. If the tumor is malignant or cancerous, it can spread to other vital organs and tissues, too, which is known as metastasis. It is more common among people who are at the age of 64 to 74 years old.

Types of Kidney Cancer

The type of kidney cancer a patient has will determine what their treatment plan is.

The most common kidney cancer type among adults is renal cell cancer, also known as renal cell adenocarcinoma. 80% of all kidney cancers are of this type [3]. Cancer persists in the tubules’ lining. These are essential for filtering blood and creating urine.

Renal cancer can be clear cell, papillary, or chromophobe cancer. The rarer type is carcinoma cancer in the collecting ducts or renal medullary carcinoma. Sarcomatoid can also persist in the connective tissue of the kidney.

The second most common kidney cancer is urothelial carcinoma, which includes 5-10% of all kidney cancer cases [4]. It begins in the renal pelvis, where urine is collected before it is moved to the bladder. It is often treated as bladder cancer since both start in the same body cells.

The Wilms tumor occurs during childhood, between the age of 3 to 4 years. Usually, tumors occur in a single kidney but might occur in both. 90% of kidney cancer among children are of this type [5]. It is usually large when detected and occurs randomly.

Sarcoma is a rare type that can develop in the kidney’s soft tissues [6]. It persists in the connective tissue or fat that surrounds the kidney. It is usually treated with surgery but can return. So, it is important to get regular checkups to ensure that it doesn’t return.

Lymphoma kidney cancer is known to enlarge the kidneys and even the lymph nodes around it. It can also spread to the chest, check, and abdominal cavity. In some rare cases, it is known to appear as a single tumor.

How Is Kidney Cancer Diagnosed?

There are different ways to diagnose kidney cancer, and not all tests might be given by the doctor. It depends on the following factors [7]:

  • General health and age
  • Results from early testing
  • Symptoms ad signs
  • What type of cancer is the patient suspected of having?

The diagnosis can be determined through:

  • Urine and blood tests
  • Biopsy
  • CAT or CT scans
  • X-ray
  • MRI
  • Nephro-ureteroscopy and cystoscopy

Kidney Cancer Staging

The bladder cancer stage is based on the size of a tumor and its area of spread. There are five stages of cancer, from 0 to 4 [8]. The higher the stage of cancer, the more the tumor has spread. The stage of the cancer is determined during the diagnosis stage. For example, if you have Stage III cancer and it returns, having spread to the bone, you will be staged at Stage III with metastasis to the bone. Metastasis means that it has spread.

Bladder cancer is classified on the TNM scale, which is as follows:

  • T= Tumor size (measured in centimeters)
  • N= Number of lymph nodes nearby with cancer
  • M= Whether the bladder cancer has metastasized to other organs

Is Kidney Cancer Hereditary?

Usually, kidney cancer isn’t passed down through genetics. However, if it persists through multiple generations, it can be hereditary. It is quite rare, only accounting for 5-8% of kidney cancer cases. These are attributed to hereditary symptoms that are caused by some mutations in the genes. Such hereditary syndromes can occur in four types:

  • Hereditary papillary renal cancer (HPRC)
  • Hereditary leiomyomatosis and renal cell cancer (HLRCC)
  • Birt-Hogg-Dubé syndrome (BHD)
  • von Hippel-Lindau disease (VHL)

Kidney Cancer Symptoms

Kidney cancer at an early stage doesn’t cause many symptoms or signs, but larger ones can. If you notice any signs or symptoms described below, it is important to get checked by the doctor at once.

What Are the Symptoms of Kidney Cancer?

Symptoms of kidney cancer could include [9]:

  • Pressure or pain in the back or side
  • Fatigue or weakness
  • Loss of appetite
  • General sense of feeling sick
  • Bone pain
  • Night sweats

What Are Some Signs of Kidney Cancer?

As mentioned, signs refer to clinical manifestations, something that could be noticed during medical tests or examinations. Some early signs of kidney cancer could include [10]:

  • Blood in urine
  • A lump or mass in the back or side
  • Swelling of legs and ankles
  • High blood pressure
  • Anemia
  • Persistent fever
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Coughing up blood

Symptoms of Kidney Cancer in Women vs. Symptoms of Kidney Cancer in Men*

While both men and women experience the same symptoms and signs of kidney cancer, there can be one difference. Men might experience a quick development of enlarged veins forming a cluster. This is called a varicocele that usually occurs in the right testicle, indicating a kidney tumor. Other than that, both experience the symptoms listed above.

*Note that here, we are using the terms “women” and “men” to refer to female and male biological sex at birth, respectively.

Risk Factors for Kidney Cancer

Being at great risk for kidney cancer doesn’t necessarily mean that you will get the disease. However, if you are at greater risk, it can be prudent to get checked regularly and take some precautions.

Here are some risk factors for kidney cancer [11]:

  • Smoking
  • Obesity
  • High blood pressure
  • Exposure to trichloroethylene at the workplace
  • Family history of kidney cancer
  • Being a man
  • Being black
  • Some medications
  • History of kidney disease

Kidney Cancer Prevention

While the causes of kidney cancer are unknown, there are some ways to reduce the risk of kidney cancer [12]. You can quit smoking since it is responsible for most cases of kidney cancer. High blood pressure and obesity also need to be kept in check. Exercising and consuming a healthy diet can help you. It is also necessary to practice health and safety guidelines at work to limit exposure to trichloroethylene.

Kidney Cancer Prognosis and Treatment

The prognosis for kidney cancer is highly dependent on the stage and type of kidney cancer. In general, kidney cancers caught at earlier stages (stage 0/in situ, stage 1) have a better outlook. If cancer has metastasized, treatment is more difficult, but it is important to maintain hope.

Kidney Cancer Survival Rate

The survival rate for kidney cancer is usually based on the stage of cancer you have. Two-thirds of patients with kidney cancer that just exists in the kidney have a 5-year survival rate of a high 93% [13]. If it has spread to regional lymph nodes, organs, or tissues in the surrounding area, the 5-year rate is 71%. If cancer has spread to different parts of the body, the rate can drop to 14%.

Kidney Cancer Treatment Options

There are two main types of treatment options for kidney cancer: local and systematic [14]. You might get a combination of treatments depending on the size of the tumor, stage of cancer, general health, age, and response to treatments.

Local treatments include surgery and radiation. Surgery is one of the most common types of treatment options where the tumor is removed [15]. It can include a radical nephrectomy, partial nephrectomy, robotic surgery or laparoscopic, metastasectomy, and cytoreductive nephrectomy.

Radiation therapy is where high-energy rays are used to kill cancerous cells. It will only target the cells in a specific part of the body (the kidney). It is often used in conjunction with surgery to destroy any remaining mutated and cancerous cells in the region after the tumor has been removed.

Systematic treatments include drugs that can target cancer cells. They include chemotherapy, hormone therapy, targeted drug therapy, and immunotherapy. Chemotherapy is used to slow down or kill cancerous cells, where drugs travel through the body via the bloodstream.

Targeted drug therapy is a relatively new and effective treatment when compared to chemo and hormone therapy. It can attack the cancer cells without hurting the normal body cells. It is often used with conventional chemo but has fewer side effects than it.

In immunotherapy, patients receive medication that can boost the natural immune system of the body to target and destroy cancerous cells in a more effective manner.



Kidney cancer is a serious problem that can often be diagnosed at later stages. It is important to keep up the health of the kidney by drinking plenty of water and living a healthier life. If you do experience kidney cancer symptoms, you need to get an appointment with a doctor as soon as you can.