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Cancer health centre

Renal cell kidney cancer

Renal cell kidney cancer is also known as renal adenocarcinoma or hypernephroma, and is the most common type of kidney cancer in adults in the UK.

Renal cell cancer begins in the cells lining small tubes inside the kidney used for filtering blood and urine.

The most common type of renal cell cancer is clear cell cancer. Other types include papillary types 1 and 2, chromophobe, oncocytic and collecting duct.

Causes of renal cell kidney 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 kidney 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 fever
  • Night sweats
  • Malaise (feeling generally unwell)
  • Anaemia (abnormally low number of red blood cells).

Other symptoms (e.g., bone pain) may result from renal cell cancer spreading to the bones, lungs or elsewhere.

Renal cell cancer can also cause a number of so-called paraneoplastic syndromes, which occur when the tumour releases cytokines (signalling molecules involved in immune responses) or hormones. These include:

  • High blood pressure
  • Hypercalcaemia (high level of calcium in the blood)
  • Polycythaemia (abnormally high number of red blood cells)
  • Liver disorders
  • Muscle weakness
  • Neuropathy (nerve disorder that can cause numbness, tingling or burning pain)
  • Amyloidosis (abnormal deposits of protein in the body).

Seek medical advice if you have any of these symptoms, they are unexplained, and they last for more than a few days. The earlier a cancer is diagnosed and treated, the better the chances are of a full recovery.

WebMD Medical Reference

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