Kidney Cancer

Renal Cell Cancer (RCC) is a cancerous mass that grows within the kidney itself. Affecting about 32,000 Americans each year, this cancer usually responds well to treatment when caught early. Similar to other urologic cancers, there are often no early warning signs thus the importance of routine health checks.


The symptoms of more advanced RCC are:

  • Blood in your urine (hematuria) - the most common sign
  • Mass or lump in your abdominal area
  • Fever
  • High blood pressure - seen in some rare kidney cancers
  • Pain in your side, flank or lower back
  • Swelling in your legs and ankles
  • Late symptoms include anemia (low blood count), persistent fatigue and rapid weight loss

Diagnosis and Staging

Following a thorough history and physical examination, your doctor may order additional imaging and lab tests including:

  • CT Scan, MRI or ultrasound
  • Urinalysis
  • Blood tests
  • X-ray or bone scan - to determine if cancer has spread to the lungs or bones
  • Needle biopsy of the mass in rare circumstances

Your cancer is staged based on size, tumor grade, invasion into surrounding tissue, and extent of any spread beyond the kidney. Your cancer will receive a score that helps your doctor predict how the cancer may progress. You can read more about kidney cancer staging here.


Treatment will depend on a number of factors, including your age, overall health, and the extent to which the cancer has progressed. When appropriate, your urologist will collaborate with other specialized doctors to provide one or more of the following:

Surgery - the standard treatment for RCC. The following procedures often can be performed laparoscopically, where several small incisions replace one larger one resulting in less pain and a faster recovery.

Radical nephrectomy - total removal of the kidney and surrounding lymph nodes (and possibly the nearby adrenal gland)

Partial nephrectomy - removing only the cancerous part of the kidney. Studies have shown that this approach can be just as effective as a radical nephrectomy for many patients with early stage RCC

Cryosurgery - destroying cancer cells by placing a special needle into the tumor and freezing it

Radiofrequency ablation - using heat to destroy cancer cells

Radiation therapy - using high energy X-rays to destroy cancer cells and shrink tumors; usually used to reduce pain if cancer has spread to your bones

Embolization – a small catheter is placed through an artery and advanced to the kidney. A small amount of material is then placed into the vessels in the kidney to block blood flow. This is not a standard treatment option but may be used in conjunction with surgery or in select patients.

Biologic therapy - using substances to boost the immune system and fight cancer

Chemotherapy - using medications to treat cancer cells that have spread throughout the body

Follow Up

Since RCC may recur, your urologist may recommend follow-up care at three to six month intervals. This will include a visit in the office with imaging (e.g. CT or Ultrasound) as needed. Typically, surgery is curative but additional therapy may be required.

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