Kidney Cancer

Kidney cancer is treated in our Genitourinary Cancer Program within the Upstate Cancer Center.

For more information or answers to your questions about our Cancer Care, please call 315 464-HOPE (4673) to speak with an Upstate Cancer Center representative.

Definition

Kidney cancer is a disease in which cancer cells grow in the kidneys. The kidneys are 2 bean-shaped organs. They are located just above the waist, on each side of the spine. Their main function is to filter the blood and produce urine.

There are 2 main types of kidney cancer: Wilms tumor, which occurs mainly in children, and renal cell carcinoma in adults. The cells that line the ureter may also give rise to transitional cell cancer, and the connective tissues of the kidney may produce sarcomas, which are rare.

Causes

Cancer occurs when cells in the body divide without control or order. Normally, cells divide in a regulated manner. If cells keep dividing uncontrollably when new cells are not needed, a mass of tissue forms, called a growth or tumor. The term cancer refers to malignant growths. These growths can invade nearby tissues. Cancer that has invaded nearby tissues can then spread to other parts of the body.

It is not clear exactly what causes these problems in the cells, but it is probably a combination of genetics and environment.

Risk Factors

Kidney cancer is more common in men, and in people over 50 years old. Other factors that may increase your chances of kidney cancer:

  • Smoking
  • Family history of certain hereditary forms of kidney cancer
  • Obesity
  • Certain occupational exposures, such as asbestos and aniline
  • Tanning products
  • Exposure to some toxins, such as astrolachia, which is an herb that is common in some Chinese herbal preparations
  • Balkan nephritis
  • Chronic kidney stones
  • Phenacetin abuse
  • Tuberous sclerosis
  • Dialysis treatment
  • Von Hippel Lindau syndrome

Symptoms

Kidney cancer may cause:

  • Blood in the urine
  • Lower back pain or new pain elsewhere
  • Shortness of breath or a cough
  • A lump in the abdomen
  • Unplanned, significant weight loss
  • Fever
  • Swelling of ankles, legs, and/or abdomen—edema

Diagnosis

Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done.

Your bodily fluids and tissues may be tested. This can be done with:

  • Blood tests
  • Urine tests
  • Biopsy—a sample of kidney tissue is taken and evaluated under a microscope

Other tests evaluate the kidneys and other structures. These may include:

The physical exam combined with all of your test results, will help to determine the stage of cancer you have. Staging is used to guide your treatment plan. Like other cancers, kidney cancer is staged from I-IV. Stage I is a very localized cancer, while stage IV indicates a spread to other parts of the body.

Treatment

Cancer treatment varies depending on the stage and type of cancer. Surgery is the most important component of any approach to cure kidney cancer. There is some information suggesting immunotherapies may be of some benefit. Radiation therapy can be used to treat kidney cancer that has spread to the lung, bones, or brain, but it is not a cure. Chemotherapy is not a very effective form of treatment.

Surgery

Surgery involves the removal of a cancerous tumor, nearby tissue, and possibly nearby lymph nodes. Surgeries to treat kidney cancer include:

  • Radical nephrectomy—removal of the entire kidney, adrenal gland, and nearby fatty tissue and lymph nodes
  • Partial nephrectomy—removal of the cancerous part of the kidney only to treat smaller tumors that have not spread locally
  • Removal of cancerous tissue that has spread to other parts of the body, particularly when causing symptoms

Radiation Therapy

This is the use of radiation to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors. External radiation therapy is directed at the tumor from a source outside the body.

Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy is the use of drugs to kill cancer cells. Chemotherapy may be given in many forms including pill, injection, and through a tube called a catheter. The drugs enter the bloodstream and travel through the body destroying mostly cancer cells but also some healthy cells.

Immunotherapy

This procedure involves the use of drugs like interleukin-2 and interferon alpha to help the immune system fight and destroy cancer cells.

Targeted Therapy

Targeted therapy includes using medications called tyrosine kinase inhibitors. These medications have been shown to increase the survival rate in people with kidney cancer. Another class of drugs called mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR) inhibitors may also help people with kidney cancer live longer.

Medication

These medications may be prescribed to adults with advanced kidney cancer:

  • Everolimus
  • Pazopanib

Prevention

Measures to prevent kidney cancer are limited. In general:

  • Avoid using tobacco products
  • Eat a healthful diet
  • Try to avoid occupations that may expose you to harsh chemicals
 

Library resources related to kidney cancer.

For more information:

Internet Links
The detailed guide includes descriptions of the causes, risk factors, prevention, diagnosis, staging, treatments, and what's new in kidney cancer research.
Health information on kidney cancer from the Mayo Clinic Foundation, includes: description, symptoms, causes, risk factors, treatments and drugs, coping and support, alternative medicine, and prevention.
Information on kidney cancer from the Urology Care Foundation.
The Kidney Cancer Association (KCA) is a charitable organization made up of patients, family members, physicians, researchers, and other health professionals globally. It is the world's first international charity dedicated specifically to the eradication of death and suffering from renal cancers.
Information on kidney cancer in children from the Urology Care Foundation.
Link to a search of the MedlinePlus database for health information on kidney cancer. MedlinePlus links are managed by medical librarians at the National Library of Medicine.
An electronic booklet about medical care for kidney cancer from the National Cancer Institute. The booklet includes information on risk factors, diagnosis, staging, treatment, follow-up care, and cancer research.
Books
Kansas City: Andrews McMeel Pub., c2008. xxxv, 988 p. :
Table of contents onlyExternal Icon
Contributor biographical informationExternal Icon
Publisher descriptionExternal Icon
Top