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Cancer health centre

Renal cell kidney cancer

Renal cell cancer overview

The kidneys are a pair of organs located just above your waist on either side of your backbone. Their job is to filter excess water and waste products from your blood. The kidneys also produce substances that help to control blood pressure and to form red blood cells.

Several different types of cancer can develop in the kidney. Conventional or clear-cell renal cell cancer, also known as renal cell carcinoma, is by far the most common type in adults. Renal cell carcinoma accounts for about 85% of kidney cancers. It develops in the tubules of the kidney, which are part of the body's filtering system.

Cancer occurs when normal cells grow and multiply uncontrollably. When the resulting tumours are malignant (cancerous), they invade the tissues of neighbouring organs through a process known as metastasis. In renal cell carcinoma, tumours are most likely to spread to neighbouring lymph nodes, the lungs, the liver, the bones or the brain.

In 2009 over 9,000 people where diagnosed with kidney cancer in the UK. Most of these diagnoses are in people aged 50-70, but the disease can occur at any age. About twice as many men as women develop renal cell carcinoma, and it occurs in all races and ethnic groups.

Like almost all cancers, renal cell cancer is most likely to be successfully treated when it is found early.

Causes renal cell cancer

The exact cause of renal cell cancer is unknown but a number of different risk factors are associated with the disease:

  • Cigarette smoking doubles the risk of renal cell cancer and contributes to as many as one third of all cases.
  • As body weight increases, so does the risk of developing renal cell cancer. This is especially true for women.
  • Occupational exposure to petroleum products, heavy metals, solvents, coke-oven emissions or asbestos
  • Cystic kidney disease associated with chronic renal insufficiency
  • Cystic changes in the kidney and renal dialysis
  • Tuberous sclerosis
  • Von Hippel-Lindau (VHL) disease
  • Hereditary renal cancer
  • Associated malignancies such as lymphoma.

Renal cell cancer symptoms

In its early stages, renal cell cancer usually produces no noticeable symptoms. Symptoms may develop only when the cancer grows and begins to press on surrounding tissues or spread to other parts of the body.

The symptoms of renal cell cancer vary considerably from person to person. Some people never develop any symptoms and the cancer is only discovered when they have imaging tests, such as a CT (computed tomography) scan, for another reason. In a study published in the Journal of Urology, around 53% of people with localised renal cell carcinoma had no symptoms.

The symptoms of renal cell cancer may include the following:

  • Haematuria (blood in the urine)
  • Pain in the flank (side or back above the waist) that will not go away
  • Noticeable mass (lump) in the flank
  • Weight loss
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of appetite
  • A temperature
  • Night sweats
  • Malaise (feeling generally unwell)
  • Anaemia (abnormally low number of red blood cells).

WebMD Medical Reference

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