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Kidney Cancer: Signs and Symptoms, Stages, Treatments, and Risk Factors

Sometimes referred to as renal cancer, kidney cancer is an illness where kidney cells becoming cancerous and uncontrollably multiply to form a tumor. Nearly all of kidney cancer cases show up within lining of tiny tubes (referred to as tubules) within this organ.

The silver lining with this condition is that a majority of kidney cancer cases are discovered before they spread to other organs, and the earlier a cancer is detected, the greater the success around treatment. Still, there are times these tumors can develop and become large before they are found.

Two organs that have a bean shape to them, kidneys are about the size of one’s fist. They are located in a person’s lower abdomen on each end of the spine. They act to clean up blood, take away waste products, and produce urine; therefore, when a tumor is found on them, this can severely disrupt the function of a person’s kidneys.

Signs and Symptoms

Generally speaking, many patients don’t see any early signs or symptoms of this condition; however, as the tumor grows, symptoms can begin to pop up. Some of the signs and symptoms of kidney cancer include:

  • Finding blood within urine
  • Feeling a lump on one’s abdomen or side
  • Loss of appetite
  • A side pain that won’t go away
  • Significant weight loss (without any other changes)
  • A persistent fever
  • Fatigue
  • Anemia
  • Ankle swelling

If the kidney cancer spreads to other body parts, patients may experience the following:

  • Coughing up blood
  • Shortness of breath
  • Bone pain


Below are the four stages of kidney cancer. As the stages get higher, this indicates that the cancer is more progressed.

Stage I: This indicates that the tumor is about seven centimeters or less, and it is only located in the kidney.

Stage II: The tumor is now bigger than seven centimeters, but still only located in the kidney.

Stage III: The tumor is in the kidney and within at minimum of one lymph node close by. This stage also indicates that the tumor could be in the main blood vessel in, or fatty tissues around, the kidney, which can also involve a nearby lymph node. This stage can also mark that a tumor has gone into the perinephric tissues and major veins, but not into the ipsilateral adrenal gland or farther than Gerota’s fascia.

Stage IV: At this point, the cancer has gone past the kidney’s fatty layer of tissue and might also be in a lymph node nearby. This stage also may include the cancer hitting other parts of the body and has probably gone past Gerota’s fascia, as well as the contiguous extension into the ipsilateral adrenal gland.


Once a patient has been diagnoses with kidney cancer, and doctors have determined the stage they are at, it’s time to think about treatment.

The good news is that that there is a wide variety of treatments to choose from when it comes to this condition. Patients will want to gather as much information as possible to assess which one to proceed with, and sometimes one or more kidney cancer treatments will go hand-in-hand to help battle the illness.


There are plenty of kidney cancer surgeries to choose from, and which type a patient goes through with depends on the stage of cancer they are at.

Radical Nephrectomy: This surgery removes the surrounding tissue, as well as the kidney, adrenal gland, and lymph nodes close by. Radical nephrectomy is generally the surgery used for this condition and can be done via laparoscope that leaves a small incision.

Simple Nephrectomy: This procedure removes only the kidney.

Partial Nephrectomy: Gets rid of the cancer within the kidney and some tissue. This surgery option is used for small tumors measuring less than four centimeters or for those cases where radical nephrectomy could hurt the patient’s kidney.

Still, if a person’s kidney cancer cannot be removed via surgery, there are other treatment options available, which include:


Extreme cold is used to destroy the tumor.

Radiofrequency Ablation 

High-energy radio waves are used to ‘cook’ the tumor out.

Arterial Embolization

This procedure is where material is placed into an artery linked to the kidney. This blocks any blood to the tumor and can destroy it or help shrink it before surgery is done.

Biologic Therapy

This uses a person’s own immune system to work for them and fight the illness off by directing, boosting, or restoring a body’s organic defenses.

Targeted Therapy

This involves using substances or drugs to target the cancer cells, inhibiting anything within the body from ‘feeding’ these malignant cells so they can stop growing and shrink.

Radiation Therapy 

This treatment is used for those who cannot have surgery or to relieve the symptoms and signs of kidney cancer. It uses high-energy x-rays or additional radiation to destroy cancer cells or stop them from growing.


This uses drugs to stop cancer cells from multiplying, and destroys them. Chemotherapy is generally used for a specific types of kidney cancer, as it is not as effective for this condition as it is with other types of cancers.

Risk Factors

While the root cause of kidney is cancer is unknown, there are certain risks to the condition. They are as follows:

Age: This type of cancer often occurs within people 40 years or older.

Smokers: Those who smoke cigarettes have a doubled increase risk of kidney cancer, compared to non-smokers.

Men: Males have double the chance of getting kidney cancer versus their female counterparts.

Obesity/Overweight: Those who are obese and overweight are at risk when it comes to kidney cancer because of the changes within hormones that result in those added pounds.

Long-term Use Of Pain Meds: Certain over-the-counter pain medications and prescription drugs can increase risks around kidney cancer if used long-term.

Kidney Disease

Those who have kidney disease or have been on dialysis for a long while are more susceptible to kidney cancer.

Genetic Conditions

Inherited papillary renal cell carcinoma or von Hippel-Lindau (VHL) are just a couple of examples of genetic diseases that can increase kidney cancer risks.

Family History

Those who have a family history of this condition seem more susceptible to it.

Chemical Exposure

Exposure to cadmium, benzene, asbestos, specific herbicides, as well as organic solvents can be a kidney cancer risk factor.

High Blood Pressure

While doctors are unsure why (whether it is the medication or high blood pressure itself), those with this condition are more at risk for kidney cancer.


It is unknown why; however, those with lymphoma have an increased risk of kidney cancer as well.

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