Kidney cancer is among the 10 most common cancers in American men and women with about 75,000 new cases diagnosed annually in the United States.

This cancer affects the kidneys, which are a pair of bean-shaped organs that filter blood to produce urine. There are many different types of kidney cancer that include renal cell carcinoma, urothelial carcinoma, sarcoma, lymphoma, Wilms tumors and others. There are also a number of benign (noncancerous) kidney tumors.

Kidney masses usually have no symptoms and are found incidentally on imaging for an unrelated reason. Large kidney tumors may cause flank pain or blood in the urine.

Causes and Risk Factors

Most kidney cancers occur randomly but risk factors may include:

  • Increased age
  • Smoking
  • Obesity
  • Male gender
  • Dialysis
  • Family history of kidney tumors
  • Exposure to certain chemicals such as benzene

When to Speak with a Urologist about Kidney Cancer

You should talk to a Urologist about kidney cancer if you have had a kidney mass detected on abdominal imaging.

What to Expect when Seeking Treatment

In addition to a history and physical examination, initial assessment typically includes both pre and post contrast-enhanced imaging with either CT or MRI if renal function allows to assess the mass and allow for surgical planning. Additional chest imaging with a chest x-ray or CT scan should also be completed to rule out chest involvement. Laboratory testing of both blood and urine will also be performed.

Treatment Options

If the kidney tumor appears confined to the kidney without evidence of spread, management strategies include active surveillance (if the tumor is very small, especially in the elderly), thermal ablation (to destroy the tumor by heat or by freezing without removing it), and surgical removal with either removal of a small portion of the kidney (partial nephrectomy) or the entire kidney (radical nephrectomy). The best treatment options for a particular patient will depend on the size and location of the tumor, the patient’s renal function, and other clinical factors.

Genetic testing should be considered if there is a history of other close family members who have had kidney cancer or if the patient is young at the time of diagnosis.