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Kidney Cancer (Renal cell carcinoma)



Alternative Name

Renal cancer; Kidney cancer; Hypernephroma; Adenocarcinoma of renal cells; Cancer - kidney

Overview

Renal cell carcinoma is a type of kidney cancer in which the cancerous cells are found in the lining of very small tubes (tubules) in the kidney.


Review Date: 3/2/2010

Reviewed By: David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine; Yi-Bin Chen, MD, Leukemia/Bone Marrow Transplant Program, Massachusetts General Hospital. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.



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Risk Factors

Renal cell carcinoma is the most common type of kidney cancer in adults. It occurs most often in men ages 50 - 70.

The exact cause is unknown.

Risk factors include:

  • Dialysis treatment
  • Family history of the disease
  • Genetics
  • High blood pressure
  • Horseshoe kidney
  • Smoking
  • Von Hippel-Lindau disease (a hereditary disease that affects the capillaries of the brain, eyes, and other body parts)
Signs/Symptoms

  • Abdominal pain
  • Back pain
  • Blood in the urine
  • Enlargement of the veins around a testicle (varicocele)
  • Flank pain
  • Swelling or enlargement of the abdomen
  • Unintentional weight loss

Other symptoms that can occur with this disease:

  • Constipation
  • Cold intolerance
  • Excessive hair growth in females
  • Pallor
  • Vision abnormalities

Sometimes both kidneys are involved. The cancer spreads easily, most often to the lungs and other organs. In about one-third of patients, the cancer has already spread (metastasized) at the time of diagnosis.

Calling your health care provider

Call your health care provider any time you see blood in the urine. Also call if you have any other symptoms of this disorder.

Treatment

Surgical removal of all or part of the kidney (nephrectomy) is recommended. This may include removing the bladder or surrounding tissues or lymph nodes.

In some patients, surgery to remove a small number of tumors that have spread (metastases) may be helpful.

Radiation therapy usually does not work for renal cell carcinoma so it is not often used. Hormone treatments may reduce the growth of the tumor in some cases.

Chemotherapy is generally not effective for treating renal cell carcinoma. The drug interleukin-2 (IL-2), which works by helping the body’s own immune system kill the cancer cells, may help a small number of patients, but it is very toxic. Other chemotherapy drugs have been used, but patients generally do not live long once the disease has spread outside the kidney.

Newer therapies include sorafenib (Nexavar), sunitinib (Sutent), and temsirolimus (Torisel). The biologic drug bevacizumab (Avastin) has also been used.

A cure is unlikely unless all of the cancer is removed with surgery.

Prevention

Stop smoking. Follow your health care provider's recommendations in the treatment of kidney disorders, especially those that may require dialysis.

Outlook

The outcome depends on how much the cancer has spread and how well it responds to treatment. The survival rate is highest if the tumor is in the early stages and has not spread outside the kidney. If it has spread to the lymph nodes or to other organs, the survival rate is much lower.


Complications

  • High blood pressure (hypertension)
  • High calcium level
  • High red blood cell count
  • Liver function abnormalities
  • Spread of the cancer
Signs & Testing

Examination of the abdomen may show a mass or organ enlargement, particularly of the kidney or liver. Men may have a varicocele in the scrotum (a varicocele that is only on the right side is especially suspicious).

Tests include:

  • Abdominal CT scan
  • Blood chemistry
  • Complete blood count (CBC)
  • Intravenous pyelogram (IVP)
  • Liver function tests
  • Renal arteriography
  • Ultrasound of the abdomen and kidney
  • Urinalysis and urine cytology

The following tests may be performed to see if the cancer has spread:

  • Abdominal CT scan
  • Abdominal MRI
  • Bone scan
  • Chest x-ray
  • PET scan