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Kidney cancer (renal cancer)

The position of the kidneys, renal artery and vein, ureters, bladder, and urethraYour kidneys are two bean-shaped organs about the size of your fist. Most people have two kidneys, and they sit just below your rib cage, one on each side of your spine.

Kidney cancer (also called renal cancer) happens when the cells in the kidney become abnormal and grow into a tumour. It's most common in people over 60.

Your kidneys have different types of cells, and the type of cancer depends on the type of cell the cancer starts in. There are several types of kidney cancer but the two most common types are renal cell cancer and transitional cell cancer.

Symptoms of kidney cancer

Kidney cancer often has no symptoms at first. It's often found when you have an X-ray for other reasons and the X-ray shows something out of the ordinary.

If you do have symptoms, they can include feeling unwell, being tired, losing your appetite, having a fever, and sweating heavily – especially at night.

You should always see your GP if you have blood in your urine (called haematuria), pain in your side or lower back, or a lump or swelling in the area of your kidneys.

Causes of kidney cancer

We don't know what causes most kidney cancer. But there are a few things that may increase your risk, such as getting older, smoking, high blood pressure and being overweight. Men are more likely to get kidney cancer than women. A family history of kidney cancer and some rare genetic disorders also increase the risk.

Reducing my risk of kidney cancer

Maintaining a healthy weight, not smoking and having good blood pressure can help reduce your risk of getting kidney cancer.

Diagnosing kidney cancer

There's no screening programme for kidney cancer. If your GP suspects you may have kidney cancer, they'll examine you for any lumps or swellings and ask you questions about your general health. They may arrange a blood test to measure how well your kidneys are working and a urine test to check for an infection or any blood in your urine. Sometimes urine tests or scans done for something else pick up kidney cancer.

Your GP might need to refer you to hospital for an ultrasound and they may refer you to see a specialist called a urologist. You may need a type of CT scan called a CT urogram, which looks in detail at your urinary system.

Treating kidney cancer

Kidney cancer can often be cured if caught early. Treatments for kidney cancer ranges from monitoring small cancers that are unlikely to cause any problems, to surgery and chemotherapy and radiotherapy.

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Written by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Endorsed by clinical director, Urology, Canterbury DHB. Last reviewed November 2019.

Sources

See also:

Cancer treatments & their side effects

Looking after yourself & other people who have cancer

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Review key: HIKCR-408296