Kidney Cancer (Renal Cancer) | Cardinal Bernardin Cancer Center | Loyola Medicine

Kidney Cancer (Renal Cancer)

Overview and Facts about Kidney Cancer

Kidney cancer is a growth of cancerous cells that begins in the kidneys, the two bean-shaped organs located on either side of your spine that are part of your urinary tract. Kidney cancer is a urology/oncology condition commonly called renal cell carcinoma, as this is the most common form of kidney cancer.

Signs and Symptoms of Kidney Cancer

A major sign and symptom of kidney cancer is lower back and side pain, sometimes accompanied by intermittent fever. Signs and symptoms often occur at early stages of the disease.

Additional signs and symptoms of kidney cancer include:

  • Blood in the urine that causes the urine to appear red or brown in color
  • Blood cells found in urine when the urine is examined under a microscope (in less apparent cases of blood in the urine)
  • Unexplained weight loss and/or fatigue
  • Decreased or loss of appetite
  • Abdominal lumps

Causes and Risk Factors of Kidney Cancer

Kidney cancer develops when kidney cells, called renal cells, undergo harmful genetic changes that cause the cells to grow abnormally and/or uncontrollably without dying. Individuals with a personal or family history of cancer have an increased risk of developing the disease. Certain diseases and syndromes, such as von Hippel-Lindau disease, tuberous sclerosis complex, and Birt-Hogg-Dube (BHD) syndrome, also increase risk.

Other known causes and risk factors of kidney cancer include:

  • African-American and American Indian/Alaska Native ethnicity or descent
  • Gender, as men are twice as likely to develop kidney cancer than women
  • Older age (50 years and over)
  • Alcohol and tobacco use/abuse
  • High blood pressure
  • Overexposure to harmful chemicals, such as trichloroethylene
  • Obesity
  • Kidney disease
  • Taking certain medications, such as phenacetin and diuretics


Tests and Diagnosis of Kidney Cancer

Kidney cancer is often diagnosed during the early stages of the disease using blood, urine and x-ray tests. A physical exam and assessment of personal and family history of cancer are performed to identify signs, symptoms, and personal risk of kidney cancer. Genetic tests can determine the presence of genetic variations associated with kidney cancer. CT scans, positron emission tomography (PET) scans, ultrasounds, MRIs and other imaging techniques are used to determine the size and location of tumors in the kidneys. Kidney tissue may also be removed and tested in a laboratory for signs of kidney cancer.

Treatment and Care for Kidney Cancer

As kidney cancer is often diagnosed at its early stages, effective treatment is possible. All or a portion of the affected kidney may be removed through a form of minimally invasive robotic surgery.

Chemotherapy may be administered to destroy kidney cancer cells. Kidney cancer is preventable in some cases through lifestyle choices, such as having a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, avoiding tobacco and exercising regularly to help prevent or reduce the risk of high blood pressure and obesity.

Loyola is widely recognized as one of the top urology programs nationwide with a number of urologic cancer specialists that offer treatment options, including: