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Kidney Cancer

Kidney cancer is treated in our Urologic Cancer Program within the Upstate Cancer Center.

For more information or answers to your questions about our Cancer Care, please call 315 464-HOPE (4673) to speak with an Upstate Cancer Center representative.


Kidney cancer is cancer that starts in the kidneys. The kidneys are found just above the waist, on each side of the spine. The kidneys filter blood and make urine. The main types of kidney cancer are:

  • Wilms tumor —happens mainly in children
  • Renal cell carcinoma—happens in adults; different types are based on where they start


Cancer is when cells in the body split without control or order. These cells go on to form a growth or tumor. Cancer refers to harmful growths. These growths can attack nearby tissues and also spread to other parts of the body. It is not clear exactly what causes this to happen. It is likely a mix of genes and the environment.

Cancer Cell Growth
Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

Risk Factors

Kidney cancer is more common in men and people 60 years old or older. Other things that raise the risk are:


Symptoms of kidney cancer may be:

  • Blood in the urine (pee)
  • Lower back pain
  • A lump in the belly
  • Weight loss
  • Fever
  • Signs of anemia such as feeling tired, pale skin, or fast heart rate


The doctor will ask about symptoms and past health. Blood and urine tests may be done to rule out more common issues like UTI. Images of the kidneys may be taken with:

A growth on the kidney may also be found when taking images for other reasons. Cancer is confirmed with a biopsy. A sample of suspicious tissue is taken and tested in a lab.

The exam and test results help find out the stage of cancer. Kidney cancer is staged from 1 to 4. Stage 1 is a very localized cancer. Stage 4 is a spread to other parts of the body.


Treatment is based on the stage and type of kidney cancer and overall health. More than one treatment may be used.

Some small kidney cancers are slow growing. The doctor may monitor them to see if they grow and need treatment.

Most kidney cancers are treated with surgery. The goal is to remove as much cancer as possible. Nearby lymph nodes or other sites with cancer may also be removed. Surgery may be:

  • Partial nephrectomy—removal of part of the kidney to treat smaller tumors
  • Radical nephrectomy—remove entire kidney, adrenal gland, and nearby fatty tissue and lymph nodes

Surgery can also be used to partially remove tumors that are causing symptoms.

Other treatments for kidney cancer may include:

  • Ablation—a procedure that uses heat or cold to destroy the cancer. It may be used for small areas of cancer and for those who cannot have surgery.
  • Targeted therapy—drugs that target cancer cells. It may be used:
  • Immunotherapy—drugs to help the immune system fight and kill cancer cells. It may be used for cancer that cannot be removed with surgery.
  • Chemotherapy—drugs given by pills or IV to kill cancer cells. It is not very effective against kidney cancer. It may be used if other treatments have not worked or cancer has spread to other organs.
  • Radiation therapy—high energy rays to kill cancer cells. It is not always used for kidney cancer. Radiation therapy is most often used to shrink tumors that are causing problems like pain or bleeding.


To help lower the risk of kidney cancer:

  • Do not smoke. If you do, ask the doctor about help for quitting .
  • Reach and keep a healthy weight with:
  • Avoid alcohol or limit it to no more than:


  • General information about renal cell cancer. National Cancer Institute website. Available at: https://www.cancer.gov/types/kidney/patient/kidney-treatment-pdq.
  • Kidney cancer. American Cancer Society website. Available at: https://www.cancer.org/cancer/kidney-cancer.html.
  • Renal cell carcinoma. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at:https://www.dynamed.com/condition/renal-cell-carcinoma.
  • Rini BI, Battle D, et al. The society for immunotherapy of cancer consensus statement on immunotherapy for the treatment of advanced renal cell carcinoma (RCC). J Immunother Cancer. 2019;7(1):354.

Library resources related to kidney cancer.

For more information:

Internet Links
The detailed guide includes descriptions of the causes, risk factors, prevention, diagnosis, staging, treatments, and what's new in kidney cancer research.
Health information on kidney cancer from the Mayo Clinic Foundation, includes: description, symptoms, causes, risk factors, treatments and drugs, coping and support, alternative medicine, and prevention.
Information on kidney cancer from the Urology Care Foundation.
The Kidney Cancer Association (KCA) is a charitable organization made up of patients, family members, physicians, researchers, and other health professionals globally. It is the world's first international charity dedicated specifically to the eradication of death and suffering from renal cancers.
Information on kidney cancer in children from the Urology Care Foundation.
Link to a search of the MedlinePlus database for health information on kidney cancer. MedlinePlus links are managed by medical librarians at the National Library of Medicine.
An electronic booklet about medical care for kidney cancer from the National Cancer Institute. The booklet includes information on risk factors, diagnosis, staging, treatment, follow-up care, and cancer research.