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Kidney Cancer

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Kidneys are small, bean-shaped organs in the abdomen that filter the blood and maintain its purity to keep the body functioning properly. These organs can develop numerous types of cancer cells, which are most commonly detected as a mass or tumor in the kidney found incidentally on imaging (CT, MRI, or ultrasound) done for other purposes.

The most common kidney cancer, in adults, is called renal cell carcinoma. Another type of kidney cancer that occurs in adults is urothelial carcinoma. Children are most likely to develop Wilms’ tumors in the kidneys.

Renal Cell Carcinoma—This most common adult kidney cancer affects the lining of the tiny tubes in the walls of the kidney. These tubes are known as nephrons and function to filter blood of wastes and regulate the concentration of the blood’s many substances. Renal cell carcinoma is most common in men over age 50 and has an increased risk in patients who smoke, have undergone dialysis treatment, have a history of the disease, or have a defect referred to as a “horseshoe kidney.”

Urothelial Carcinoma—This type of cancer develops specifically in the urothelial cells in the kidney and renal pelvis (the connective area between the kidney and ureter). Urothelial carcinoma is less common than renal cell carcinoma. Those who have abused certain pain medications for long periods of time, who have been exposed to certain dyes and chemicals and cigarette smokers are most susceptible to the disease.

Symptoms & Diagnosis

In its beginning stages, kidney cancer usually causes no symptoms. For this reason, when symptoms occur, it is important to contact your doctor immediately. Blood in the urine, constant back pain, weight loss, fatigue and fever are usual symptoms of kidney cancer.

In order to properly diagnose kidney cancer, your doctor may run blood and urine tests or imaging tests, to visualize the abnormality. Biopsies may also be used to test the cells of the kidney for cancer themselves, but are often not needed.


There are a wide range of treatments used for kidney cancer. Surgical options include:

  • Nephrectomy, in which the kidney is removed, along with the adjacent tissues.
  • Partial nephrectomy, involving the removal of only the affected area of the kidney, not the entire kidney.

Surgery is traditionally done through a large skin incision, howver, The Jackson Clinic currently offers minimally invasive surgery (laparoscopic/robotic) for kidney removal or partial removal utilizing the DaVinci® Surgical Robot.

If surgery is not a feasible treatment option, there are other methods which attack the cancer in an attempt to keep it from growing or to kill it altogether:

  • Cryoablation involves the use of a special needle, armed with gas to freeze the cancer cells.
  • Radiofrequency ablation involves a similar process to cryoablation, but uses electric current to burn the cancer cells, instead of freeze them.

Other treatments include immunotherapy, targeted therapy and, occasionally, chemotherapy, although these are reserved for patients whose tumor has spread to other organs.