Kidney cancer

Please note: the information below does not constitute medical advice. If you have any concerns at all, speak to your GP or consultant.


Approved:  April 2024


Review date: April 2026

About kidney cancer

What is kidney cancer?

Kidney cancer, also known as renal cancer, starts in the kidneys which are located in the middle of the back on each side of the spine. Kidneys filter waste products out of the blood to form urine.

Over 13,300 people are diagnosed with kidney cancer in the UK every year. It is more common in older people and in males.

Types of kidney cancer

Kidney cancer usually begins in the lining of small tubes (tubules) in the kidneys. There are several different types of kidney cancer including renal cell carcinoma (RCC), transitional cell carcinoma, renal sarcoma, and Wilms tumour. RCC is the most common type of kidney cancer.

What causes kidney cancer?

Risk factors for kidney cancer include:

  • Smoking
  • Being above a healthy weight range
  • Chronic high blood pressure (hypertension)
  • A family history of kidney cancer
  • Certain inherited conditions such as von Hippel-Lindau disease, hereditary papillary renal cell carcinoma, and hereditary leiomyomatosis
  • Exposure to certain chemicals in the workplace (there will be regulations in place to protect people)
  • Chronic kidney disease
  • Kidney stones

Symptoms of kidney cancer

Symptoms of kidney cancer might include:

  • Blood in the urine
  • A lump or mass in the kidney area
  • A pain in the side between the ribs and the hip
  • Back pain that doesn’t go away
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Generally feeling tired or unwell
  • Tiredness
  • Fever

Diagnosing kidney cancer

Firstly, the GP will ask about symptoms and medical history. They may perform a physical examination.

If the results are unclear, referral to a specialist will be recommended and further tests will be required. These may include:

  • Imaging tests such as ultrasounds, CT scans, MRI and chest x-rays to observe structures and functions inside the body
  • A biopsy, where tissue is taken from the kidney tumour and examined under a microscope by a pathologist. This helps determine the type of kidney cancer and its aggressiveness.
  • Blood and urine tests

Most renal tumours are diagnosed incidentally during scanning for other complaints.

Kidney cancer treatment

Once kidney cancer is diagnosed a number of factors will determine the type of treatment offered. These include general health, lifestyle, the stage of the cancer and how aggressive it is.

Treatments for kidney cancer may include:

  • Active surveillance
  • Targeted therapy
  • Surgery partial or total removal of the affected kidney
  • Cryotherapy where the cancer cells are killed through freezing them
  • Immunotherapy
  • Radiotherapy

Treatments for advanced cancer may be different to the above.

Clinical trials

For general information about clinical trials, including what they are and advice on how to find a clinical trial, click here.

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