What is Kidney Cancer?

What is kidney cancer?

Kidney cancer is a disease that starts in the kidneys. It happens when healthy cells in one or both kidneys grow out of control and form a lump (called a tumor).  

Renal cell carcinoma is the most common type of kidney cancer in adults. It most often begins in the lining of tiny tubes in the kidney (called "renal tubules"). The renal tubules clean your blood and make urine. Renal cell cancer often stays within the kidney, but it may spread to other parts of the body, most often the bones, lungs, or brain. There are many different types of renal cell carcinoma. The most common types are called clear-cell, chromphobe, and papillary renal cell carcinoma.

Are kidney cancer and kidney disease related?

Studies show there is a link between kidney cancer and kidney disease. Some studies show that people with kidney disease may have a higher risk for kidney cancer.  On the other hand, about one-third of the 300,000 kidney cancer survivors in the United States have or will develop kidney disease.[1],[2] Some reasons are: 

  • Long-term dialysis.  Some studies show that people on long-term dialysis have an increased risk for kidney cancer.  Experts believe this risk is due to kidney disease rather than dialysis.

  • Surgery on the kidney (called "nephrectomy").  Your risk for kidney disease is higher if all (rather than part) of the kidney must be removed due to cancer.  If the tumor is small, it is better to remove only the tumor, but not the whole kidney.  This lessens your chance of developing kidney disease. However, removing all of the kidney is often better for your survival if the tumor is large or centrally located.

  • Immunosuppressant medicines. Some anti-rejection medicines that must be taken by kidney transplant recipients to prevent rejection can increase your risk for kidney cancer.  However, taking your immunosuppressant medicine is important if you have a transplant. Without it, your body will reject your new kidney. 

Remember, not everyone with kidney cancer will get kidney disease.  Likewise, not everyone who has kidney disease or a transplant will get kidney cancer.  Ask your healthcare provider what you can do to lessen your risk.

What is kidney disease?

Your kidneys main job is to clean waste and extra water from your blood.  Having kidney disease means your kidneys are damaged and cannot do this job well.  Over time, kidney disease can get worse and lead to kidney failure. Once kidneys fail, treatment with dialysis or a kidney transplant is needed to stay alive. Kidney disease can be found with a simple blood test and urine test during a routine office visit with your healthcare professional.

Where can I find support?

Living with a serious illness is not easy. People with cancer and those who care about them face many problems and challenges. Coping with these problems often is easier when you have helpful information and support from friends and relatives. Also, it helps many people to meet in support groups to talk about their concerns with others who have or have had cancer. In support groups, patients share what they have learned about dealing with cancer and the effects of treatment.

Keep in mind that each person is different, and the same treatments and ways of dealing with cancer may not work for everyone. Always discuss the advice of friends and family with members of your healthcare team.

Where can I get more information?

You should speak to your healthcare provider. You can also get more information from the following organizations:

  • National Cancer Institute, 1-800-4-CANCER (1-800-422-6237), or online at http://cancer.gov

  • National Kidney and Urologic Disease Information Clearinghouse (NKUDIC), a service of the National Institute of Diabetes, Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Call 1-800-891-5390 or visit the website at www.niddk.nih.gov

  • Kidney Cancer Association at www.kidneycancer.org

See Also​​:

Who is at Risk for Kidney Cancer?

How is Kidney Cancer Found?

Treatments for Kidney Cancer

Talking with Your Healthcare Professional

[1] What are the Key Statistics about Kidney Cancer.  American Cancer Society. 2016; http://www.cancer.org/cancer/kidneycancer/detailedguide/kidney-cancer-adult-key-statistics. Accessed October 20, 2016.

[2] Chang A, Finelli A, Berns JS, Rosner M. Chronic kidney disease in patients with renal cell carcinoma. Adv Chronic Kidney Dis. Jan 2014;21(1):91-95.


Date Reviewed: 11-16-2016