• Kidney Cancer

    Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women's Cancer Care

    About Kidney Cancer

    What is kidney cancer?

    Kidney cancer, also known as renal cell cancer (RCC), is a disease in which cancer cells form in the tiny tubes (tubules) or tissues of the kidneys. Kidney cancer generally grows as one tumor within the kidney; however, a kidney may contain more than one tumor, or tumors may be found in both kidneys. Another form of kidney cancer is Wilms' tumor, a pediatric cancer that accounts for 95 percent of childhood kidney cancer cases.

    male and female urniary systemsAnatomy of the male urinary system (left) and female urinary system (right) show the kidneys, ureters, bladder, and urethra. The kidneys (two) are located above the waist on each side of the backbone. The tiny tubes of the kidneys filter and clean blood, removing waste through urine. Urine is passed from the kidneys into the bladder through long tubes called ureters. 

    Risk factors

    Risk factors for kidney cancer may include:

    • Smoking
    • Being an older male
    • Obesity
    • High blood pressure
    • Family history of kidney cancer
    • Advanced kidney disease and long-term kidney dialysis
    • Misuse of pain medications, including over-the-counter medications
    • Certain genetic conditions, such as von Hippel-Lindau disease or hereditary papillary renal cell carcinoma
    • A diet high in red meat or dairy

    Signs and symptoms

    Symptoms may not appear during the early stages of kidney cancer, but rather as the tumor starts to grow. Signs and symptoms of kidney cancer vary from person to person, but the most common sign is blood in the urine (hematuria). However, blood in the urine may be caused by a number of conditions, and does not necessarily mean cancer.

    Common kidney cancer signs and symptoms may include:

    • Blood in the urine
    • A lump in the abdomen (on the side or lower back)
    • Pain in the side, abdomen or lower back that doesn't go away
    • Loss of appetite
    • Weight loss for no known reason
    • Anemia
    • Swelling of the ankles and legs
    • Unexplained fever or fatigue

    Diagnosis

    To diagnose kidney cancer or see if the cancer has spread, these tests may be performed:

    • Physical exam
    • Blood, liver function, and urine tests
    • Ultrasound
    • Biopsy
    • X-ray
    • CT (CAT) scan
    • MRI scan

    Learn details about how we diagnose kidney cancer.

    Treatment

    Treatment options for kidney cancer depend on the stage of the cancer, as well as the patient's general health. Common treatment options include:

    • Kidney-sparing surgery
    • Laparoscopic and robotic surgery
    • Cryoablation or radiofrequency ablation
    • Targeted therapies
    • Immunotherapy
    • Active surveillance

    Learn details about how we treat kidney cancer.

    Prognosis

    The chance of recovery (prognosis) depends on the stage of the disease, as well as the patient's age and health.

    Find out more about kidney cancer from the National Cancer Institute.

    Next: How We Diagnose Kidney Cancer 

  • Email
  • Print
  • Share
  • Text
Highlight Glossary Terms
  • Make an Appointment

    • For adults:
      877-442-3324 (877-442-DFCI)
    • For children:
      888-733-4662 (888-PEDI-ONC)
    • Or complete the online form.
  • Genitourinary Cancer Treatment Center