What is kidney cancer?

The kidneys are two bean-shaped organs that are responsible for filtering waste from the body. They also stimulate the production of the body’s red blood cells and regulate blood pressure.

Kidney cancer occurs when malignant cells grow within one or both of the kidneys. The most common type of kidney cancer is renal cell carcinoma (RCC), which occurs when cancer cells develop in the small tubes that run through the kidneys.

RCC makes up about 90 percent of kidney cancer cases.

What are the risk factors for kidney cancer?

There is no single cause of kidney cancer, but many factors may significantly increase the risk. These include: 

  • Age: The risk of kidney cancer increases as we get older.
  • Smoking: Smokers are twice as likely to contract kidney cancer as non-smokers.
  • High blood pressure : High blood pressure has been linked with kidney cancer.
  • Obesity: Being overweight or obese can lead to a higher risk of kidney cancer.
  • Genetic conditions: Kidney cancer may have a strong genetic component and can cluster in certain families. Approximately 5 to 8 percent of kidney cancers are linked to an inherited gene. There are over a dozen genes that are now linked to a greater likelihood of developing kidney cancer.

What are the symptoms of kidney cancer?

The early symptoms of kidney cancer may be very subtle and are often mistaken for other conditions. These symptoms can include:

  • Blood in the urine
  • Abdominal pain or an abdominal mass
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Extreme fatigue and anemia
  • Loss of appetite
  • Recurrent fevers that are not caused by a cold or the flu

In recent years, the number of kidney cancer diagnoses has greatly increased. This may be due to the greater availability of imaging tests such as computerized tomography (CT) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans.

Often doctors detect kidney cancer at a very early stage, picking it up incidentally when patients are still symptom-free.

What are the treatment options?

Surgery is the most common kidney cancer intervention. This can involve removing a tumor from a kidney (partial nephrectomy) or removing the kidney altogether (nephrectomy).

The most advanced, minimally invasive techniques, including laparoscopic surgery and robot-assisted surgery. These approaches allow for the removal of cancerous tumors through the smallest possible incisions, resulting in less discomfort, minimal blood loss and faster recovery time.

In some cases with small tumors or when a patient cannot safely undergo surgery, radiofrequency ablation or cryoablation treatment is also available. These minimally invasive treatments involve inserting a needle through the skin into a tumor and using extreme temperatures to kill the cancerous cells.