Kidney (Renal Cell) Cancer Library
Learn about Kidney (Renal Cell) Cancer
Renal cell cancer is a disease in which malignant (cancer) cells form in tubules of the kidney.
Renal cell cancer (also called kidney cancer or renal cell adenocarcinoma) is a disease in which malignant (cancer) cells are found in the lining of tubules (very small tubes) in the kidney. There are 2 kidneys, one on each side of the backbone, above the waist. Tiny tubules in the kidneys filter and clean the blood. They take out waste products and make urine. The urine passes from each kidney through a long tube called a ureter into the bladder. The bladder holds the urine until it passes through the urethra and leaves the body.
Cancer that starts in the ureters or the renal pelvis (the part of the kidney that collects urine and drains it to the ureters) is different from renal cell cancer. (See the PDQ summary about Transitional Cell Cancer of the Renal Pelvis and Ureter Treatment for more information).
Smoking and misuse of certain pain medicines can affect the risk of renal cell cancer.
Anything that increases your risk of getting a disease is called a risk factor. Having a risk factor does not mean that you will get cancer; not having risk factors doesn't mean that you will not get cancer. Talk with your doctor if you think you may be at risk.
Risk factors for renal cell cancer include the following:
- Misusing certain pain medicines, including over-the-counter pain medicines, for a long time.
- Being overweight.
- Having high blood pressure.
- Having a family history of renal cell cancer.
- Having certain genetic conditions, such as von Hippel-Lindau disease or hereditary papillary renal cell carcinoma.
Signs of renal cell cancer include blood in the urine and a lump in the abdomen.
These and other signs and symptoms may be caused by renal cell cancer or by other conditions. There may be no signs or symptoms in the early stages. Signs and symptoms may appear as the tumor grows. Check with your doctor if you have any of the following:
- Blood in the urine.
- A lump in the abdomen.
- A pain in the side that doesn't go away.
- Loss of appetite.
- Weight loss for no known reason.
Tests that examine the abdomen and kidneys are used to diagnose renal cell cancer.
The following tests and procedures may be used:
- Physical exam and health history: An exam of the body to check general signs of health, including checking for signs of disease, such as lumps or anything else that seems unusual. A history of the patient’s health habits and past illnesses and treatments will also be taken.
- Ultrasound exam: A procedure in which high-energy sound waves (ultrasound) are bounced off internal tissues or organs and make echoes. The echoes form a picture of body tissues called a sonogram.
- Blood chemistry studies: A procedure in which a blood sample is checked to measure the amounts of certain substances released into the blood by organs and tissues in the body. An unusual (higher or lower than normal) amount of a substance can be a sign of disease.
- Urinalysis: A test to check the color of urine and its contents, such as sugar, protein, red blood cells, and white blood cells.
- CT scan (CAT scan): A procedure that makes a series of detailed pictures of areas inside the body, such as the abdomen and pelvis, taken from different angles. The pictures are made by a computer linked to an x-ray machine. A dye may be injected into a vein or swallowed to help the organs or tissues show up more clearly. This procedure is also called computed tomography, computerized tomography, or computerized axial tomography.
- MRI (magnetic resonance imaging): A procedure that uses a magnet, radio waves, and a computer to make a series of detailed pictures of areas inside the body. This procedure is also called nuclear magnetic resonance imaging (NMRI).
- Biopsy: The removal of cells or tissues so they can be viewed under a microscope by a pathologist to check for signs of cancer. To do a biopsy for renal cell cancer, a thin needle is inserted into the tumor and a sample of tissue is withdrawn.
Certain factors affect prognosis (chance of recovery) and treatment options.
The prognosis and treatment options depend on the following:
- The stage of the disease.
- The patient's age and general health.
Frequently Used Kidney (Renal Cell) Cancer Chemotherapy Drugs
- Cosmegen (dactinomycin)
- CeeNU (lomustine)
- Nexavar (sorafenib)
- Torisel (temsirolimus)
- Proleukin (aldesleukin)
- Mustargen (mechlorethamine)
- Votrient (pazopanib)
- Inlyta (axitinib)
- Afinitor (everolimus)
- Sutent (sunitinib)
- Avastin (bevacizumab)
- Adriamycin (doxorubicin)
- Thalomid (thalidomide)
- Cabometyx (cabozantinib (advanced renal cell carcinoma))
- Fotivda (tivozanib)