Kidney Cancer (Renal Cell Cancer)
We typically have two kidneys—each located above the waist on either side of the backbone. The kidney’s job is to remove waste product from our blood through tiny filters called tubules. Renal cell cancer (RCC) is a malignant growth that originates in these tubules.
Since the 1970s the incidence of renal cell cancer has increased due to the introduction of newer, more advanced diagnostic technology such as ultrasound and CT scans. In fact, more than 50% of the 54,000 newly diagnosed cases each year are detected incidentally or when not suspected. RCC is slightly more common in men than women.
Although research indicates several contributing factors, a singular cause of RCC has not been identified. Risk factors include cigarette smoking, misuse of certain pain medicines and genetic conditions.
Although most patients have no symptoms, you should call your doctor if you experience:
- A lump in the abdomen
- Pain in the flank or side
- Decreased appetite
- Low blood count (anemia)
- Weight loss
- Blood in the urine (hematuria)
Testing usually includes blood work, urinalysis, a CT scan, an MRI and in rare cases a biopsy. A CT scan can identify a growth in the kidney and usually determine if it is malignant. Once the diagnosis is confirmed, further tests (including blood tests to check the health of the liver, chest X-ray and a bone scan) help determine if the cancer cells have spread beyond the kidney.
Knowing the stage of the disease helps determine the treatment plan:
- Stage I: Growth or tumor no larger than 7 cm found in the kidney.
- Stage II: Tumor is larger than 7 cm but found in the kidney only.
- Stage III: Cancer found in the kidney and extending locally into major veins or perinephric tissues.
- Stage IV: Cancer has spread beyond the kidney.
Our kidney cancer treatment approach depends on each patient's situation. Local growths (stages I, II and III):
- Surveillance: Small renal tumors (<3cm) and elderly patients with multiple medical issues may elect to observe the mass.
- Surgery: By far the most common treatment, though the procedure is based on the stage of the disease and the overall condition of the patient. Depending on the size of the tumor, surgeons may remove a portion of, or the entire kidney. Minimally invasive techniques using laparoscopy or robotics can often replace larger-incision approaches, reducing pain, hospitalization and recovery time.
- Percutaneous therapy: Small tumors can be treated with cryoablation (freezing) or radiofrequency ablation.
- Systemic Therapy: Many new and promising immunologic therapies and targeted molecular approches are available for the treatment of renal cancer that has spread outside the kidney.
Metastatic growths (stages IV):
- Surgery: Depending on the stage of the cancer, sometimes a surgery is performed to remove the kidney prior to starting chemotherapy. This surgery is not curative but helps with the response of the chemotherapy.
- Chemotherapy: Many new and promising chemotherapies are available for the treatment of renal cancer.
For more information on Kidney Cancer (Renal Cell Cancer), visit the National Cancer Institute's
Renal Cell Cancer page.
Other cancers our physicians are specially trained to treat: