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Kidney Cancer: What You Need to Know

Published on Apr 02, 2014

Kidney cancer, also known as renal cell cancer, is a cancer that forms in the kidneys. It is among the 10 most common cancers in both men and women, and the incidence has increased over the last decade. The rate of people developing kidney cancer has been rising since the 1990s, which may be due to improved diagnosis of kidney cancers and screening. And according to the National Cancer Institute, the total number of new cases of kidney cancer in the United States for 2013 is estimated to be over 65,000.

Fortunately, survival rates for kidney cancer are improving. Many new treatment options have been discovered during the past decade. Plus, less invasive surgical methods make hospital stays shorter and help improve outcomes.

As with many other forms of cancer, the earlier kidney cancer is diagnosed the better the outcome may be. Early kidney cancer is usually not associated with symptoms. There are also no recommended screening tests for kidney cancer in people who are not at high risk for the disease. Kidney tumors are often found incidentally, during routine tests for other conditions.

So what should you do to avoid kidney cancer? While you can’t completely prevent the disease, there are things you can do to reduce your risk, as well as ways to take control of your health if you are diagnosed with kidney cancer.

  • Avoid Lifestyle Risks: Smoking, obesity and high blood pressure are the main lifestyle-related risk factors for the disease. Other risk factors for kidney cancer that you may not be able to control include older age, being on dialysis, and being a male.
  • Know Your Family History: If you have a first-degree relative (mother, father, brother, sister or children) who was diagnosed with kidney cancer, you are at increased risk of developing the disease. Kidney cancer can run in families, but inherited kidney cancers are rare. Genetic testing can identify whether you have a genetic mutation that increases your risk for kidney cancer. If you do, your doctor may recommend more frequent screenings.
  • Learn to Recognize the Symptoms: The most common symptoms of kidney cancer include blood in your urine, pain in your sides, weight loss, anemia, or a lump in your back or side. These may be signs of kidney cancer, but they could also indicate a number of other conditions. That said, they are symptoms that should never be ignored. Your doctor will likely recommend screenings or other tests to find the cause.
  • Be Proactive About Your Care: With all of the advancements in treating kidney cancer, it’s important to be an advocate for your own health. Your first step should be to seek the help of a specialist who can help you find out which subtype of kidney cancer you have. Having this information can help your healthcare practitioner determine how best to treat the disease.

[1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [6] [7] [8] [9] [10]


  • 1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Kidney cancer and the environment. Accessed: October 31, 2013.
  • 2. National Cancer Institute. A snapshot of kidney cancer. Accessed: October 31, 2013.
  • 3. Heuer R, Gill IS, Guazzoni G, et. al. A critical analysis of the actual role of minimally invasive surgery and active surveillance for kidney cancer. Eur Urol. 20 October 2009: 57(2010): 223-232.
  • 4. Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results Program. SEER stat fact sheets: kidney and renal pelvis cancer. National Cancer Institute Web site. Accessed: October 2, 2015.
  • 5. Lewis G, Maxwell AP. Early diagnosis improves survival in kidney cancer. Practitioner. February 2012; 256(1748): 13-6, 2.
  • 6. American Cancer Society. Kidney cancer (adult) – renal cell carcinoma: Can kidney cancer be found early? Accessed: October 31, 2013.
  • 7. Chow WH, Dong LM, Devesa SS. Epidemiology and risk factors for kidney cancer. Nat Rev Urol. May 2010; 7(5): 245-257.
  • 8. American Cancer Society. Kidney cancer (adult) – renal cell carcinoma: What are the risk factors for kidney cancer? Accessed: October 31, 2013.
  • 9. American Cancer Society. Kidney cancer (adult) – renal cell carcinoma: How is kidney cancer diagnosed? Accessed: November 1, 2013.
  • 10. Mayo Clinic Staff. Kidney cancer: Symptoms. Accessed: November 1, 2013.
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