Understanding kidney cancer
What is kidney cancer?
Kidney cancer (renal cancer) is a disease in which kidney cells become malignant (cancerous) and grow out of control, forming a tumour. Almost all kidney cancers first appear in the lining of tiny tubes (tubules) in the kidney. This type of kidney cancer is called renal cell carcinoma. The good news is that most of these cancers are found before they spread (metastasise) to distant organs. And cancers caught early are easier to treat successfully.
The kidneys are two bean-shaped organs, each about the size of a fist. They lie in your lower abdomen on each side of your spine. Their main job is to filter your blood, removing waste products and making urine.
What are the symptoms of kidney cancer?
In many cases, people may have no early symptoms of kidney cancer. As the tumour grows larger, symptoms may appear. You may have one or more of these kidney cancer symptoms:
- Blood in pee/urine
- A lump in your side or abdomen
- Loss of appetite
- A pain in your side that doesn’t go away
- Weight loss that occurs for no known reason
- A temperature that lasts for weeks and isn't caused by a cold or other infection
- Extreme fatigue
- Swelling in your ankles or legs
Kidney cancer that spreads to other parts of your body may cause other symptoms, such as:
- Shortness of breath
- Coughing up blood
- Bone pain
What causes kidney cancer?
Doctors don't know the causes of kidney cancer. But certain factors appear to increase the risk of getting kidney cancer. For example, kidney cancer occurs most often in people over 40. These are some other risk factors for kidney cancer.
- Smoking. If you smoke cigarettes, your risk of getting kidney cancer is twice that of nonsmokers. Cigars may also increase your risk.
- Being male. The disease is more common in men than in women - three male cases for every two female cases.
- Being obese. Extra weight may cause changes to hormones that increase your risk.
- Using certain pain medicines over a long period. This includes over-the-counter painkillers.
- Having advanced kidney disease or being on long-term dialysis, a treatment for people with kidneys that have stopped working
- Having certain genetic conditions, such as von Hippel-Lindau (VHL) syndrome or inherited papillary renal cell carcinoma
- Having a family history of kidney cancer. The risk is especially high in siblings.
- Being exposed to certain chemicals, such as asbestos, cadmium, benzene, organic solvents, or certain herbicides
- Having high blood pressure. Doctors don't know whether the condition or medication used to treat it is the source of the increased risk.
- Being black. The risk in black people is slightly higher than in whites. No one knows why.
Having these risk factors does not mean you will get kidney cancer. And it's also true that you can have no risk factors and still get the disease.