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Kidney Cancer Warning Signs and Symptoms

Kidney cancer, often known as renal cancer, is in the top ten most common cancers that are diagnosed in the United States. Sitting in the eighth spot, kidney cancer accounts for more than four percent of all new cancers diagnosed according to the National Cancer Institute (NCI). According to the American Cancer Society, around 73,750 Americans will be diagnosed with kidney cancer this year.

That’s a lot, which is why it is important to know all you can about recognizing this disease. Join us as we learn about the warning signs, symptoms, and other factors that can help you understand this disease.

What are the Kidneys?

Kidneys are a set of bean shaped organs that are located on either side of the spine, which filter blood and remove the excess water, salt, and other materials from the body. The majority of the fluid traveling through the kidneys run through renal tubules; small tubes that assist with filtering out the impurities before the fluid is sent to the bladder as urine.

The most common form of kidney tumors often begin with the cells that make up the renal tubules, which is why kidney cancer is often called renal cancer.

Risk Factors for Kidney Cancer

Kidney cancer is caused by mutated DNA from cells in one or both of the kidneys, causing uncontrolled cell division and growth. While the exact cause of someone’s cancer may not be known, there are many risk factors that are linked with kidney cancer. These risks range from lifestyle choices to genetics.

Some known risk factors for kidney cancer include:

Obesity –Being overweight, especially when due to high fat diets, can increase your risk of kidney cancer.

Smoking –As many know, use of and exposure to tobacco has shown huge increases in cancer.

Environmental Exposures –If the environment that you live or work in has exposed you to substances such as Asbestos or Cadmium, you may have an increased risk of developing kidney cancer.

Kidney Dialysis –Those who require the help of long term dialysis due to their kidneys being unable to filter blood are at risk of developing kidney cancer.

High Blood Pressure –The strain of high blood pressure on the kidneys can increase your odds of having kidney cancer.

Genetics –When you have a family history of kidney cancer or other kidney related diseases, your odd of developing kidney cancer increase.

Inherited genetic conditions can also increase your risks. These conditions include:

  • Hereditary renal oncocytoma, -typically benign kidney tumors.
  • Hereditary Leiomyoma Renal Cell Carcinoma -rare gene mutation that can cause bumps on the skin, and in women, can cause large fibroids in the uterus.
  • Birt-Hogg-Dube-Syndrome –skin disease that disturbs hair follicles. Often associated with kidney tumors and causing air pockets in the lungs.
  • Von Hippel-Lindau Disease –genetic mutation that causes kidney tumors.
  • Hereditary Papillary Renal Carcinoma –a hereditary form of kidney cancer that typically effects both kidneys.

Early Warning Signs of Kidney Cancer

Kidney cancer is typically difficult to find in the early stages. Usually kidney cancer is only found early when seen on an X-ray or Ultrasound that had been ordered for other reasons. Kidney cancer is difficult to diagnose early for many reasons. One of the main reasons being the location of the kidneys. Located deep inside the body, many early warning signs for other forms of cancer can be overlooked or simply impossible to notice with kidney cancer.

Many individuals only discover that they have kidney cancer through hematuria, or blood in the urine. Hematuria makes the urine appear rusty or even dark red.

Other common signs of kidney cancer include:

  • Loss of appetite or unexplained weight loss
  • Fatigue
  • Anemia
  • Lower back pain or pressure on one side that doesn’t go away
  • A mass or lump on the side or lower back
  • Persistent fever not caused by an infection
  • Swelling of the legs and ankles

Diagnosing Kidney Cancer

If you show the above symptoms, your doctor has many tools at their disposal to discover if you have developed cancer. Lab tests, such a urinalysis and advanced genomic testing are fairly noninvasive options. Doctors may also use imaging tests, such as CT scans, MRIs and PET/CT, which allow the doctor a glimpse inside the body. Another option that doctors have is preforming a biopsy. Biopsies are a minor surgical procedure that allow your doctor to take a sample from a tumor to determine if it is cancerous or not.

Treating Kidney Cancer

While surgery to completely remove that cancer is the first option for most patients with kidney cancer, sometimes other treatments are necessary. These other treatments include:

Chemotherapy –the use of cancer killing drugs to attack and kill fast growing cancer cells.

Radiation Therapy –the use of controlled and targeted energy to shrink tumors and destroy cancerous cells.

Immunotherapy –disrupts the chemical signals that cancer cells send, allowing doctors to hide them from the immune system.

Targeted Therapy –identifies the exact receptors and proteins unique to kidney cancer and targets those to kill cancer cells.


While kidney cancer is often found at later, harder to treat stages, knowing the signs and your own family history can help you and your doctor see the signs. Early detection is the best way to fight cancer!

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Written by D. Maves


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