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Understanding Kidney Cancer: Types, Causes, and Risk Factors

June 9, 2023

Kidney cancer is a treatable condition where abnormal cell growth forms kidney tumors. It’s relatively common, and the good news is that effective treatment options are available. Stay positive—learn about this manageable disease and its promising treatment strategies.


What are the Different Types of Kidney Cancer?

Renal Cell Carcinoma (RCC) – Renal Cell Carcinoma (RCC) is the most prevalent form of this cancer, accounting for about 90% of cases. It originates in the cells lining the small tubes of the kidney called renal tubules.


Transitional Cell Carcinoma (TCC) – Transitional Cell Carcinoma (TCC), also known as urothelial carcinoma, primarily affects the renal pelvis, which is the area where the kidney connects to the ureter.


Wilms Tumor – Wilms tumor, also called nephroblastoma, primarily affects children. It usually occurs in children aged 3 to 4 years but can also develop in older children. It typically affects only one kidney.


Renal Sarcoma – Renal sarcoma is a rare and aggressive type of kidney cancer that originates in the soft tissues of the kidney, such as blood vessels or connective tissues.


Collecting Duct Carcinoma – Collecting duct carcinoma is a rare and aggressive form of kidney cancer. It tends to grow and spread quickly, making treating it more difficult.


Causes of Kidney Cancer: Uncovering the Triggers

The exact causes of kidney cancer are still not fully understood, but certain factors have been identified as potential triggers. Depending on the level of exposure and your genetic predisposition, this may make you more or less susceptible to developing this cancer in the future.


Kidney Cancer Risk Factors

Some of the primary risk factors include:


Obesity – Excess body weight, particularly around the waistline, can lead to hormonal imbalances and chronic inflammation, increasing the likelihood of developing kidney cancer.


Smoking – The harmful chemicals in tobacco smoke can accumulate in the kidneys, causing damage to the cells and increasing the risk of cancer development.


Family History and Genetic Factors – Certain genetic conditions, such as von Hippel-Lindau disease, hereditary papillary renal cell carcinoma, and Birt-Hogg-Dubé syndrome, increase the likelihood of kidney cancer. If you have a family history of, discussing it with your healthcare provider for appropriate monitoring and preventive measures is essential.


Environmental Exposures – Occupational exposure to substances like asbestos, cadmium, and organic solvents has been associated with a higher incidence of kidney cancer. Limiting exposure to these hazardous substances and following safety guidelines can help reduce your risk.


What are the Symptoms of Kidney Cancer?

Recognizing the symptoms is crucial for prevention and treatment. Here are some common symptoms to be aware of:


  •  Blood in the urine (hematuria)
  • Persistent back pain, usually below the ribs
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Fatigue and weakness
  • Loss of appetite
  • Fever and night sweats
  • Swelling in the ankles and legs
  • Palpable lump or mass in the abdomen
  • High blood pressure (hypertension)
  • Anemia (low red blood cell count)


How is Kidney Cancer Diagnosed?

Diagnosing this type of cancer involves a comprehensive process that includes various steps. Firstly, the doctor will consider your medical history, symptoms, and risk factors associated with kidney cancer. A physical examination may then be conducted to check for any abnormalities. Imaging tests such as ultrasound, CT scan, or MRI are used to create detailed images of the kidneys, aiding in identifying tumors.

A biopsy may be performed to collect a small tissue sample for laboratory analysis if a tumor is detected. Staging tests are also done to determine the extent and spread of the cancer.


What are the Treatment Options?

Treatment options depend on various factors, including the stage and type of cancer, overall health, and individual preferences.

Surgery – Surgical interventions, such as partial or radical nephrectomy, are often the primary treatment for this type of cancer. These procedures involve the removal of either a portion or the entire affected kidney.


Radiation Therapy – Radiation therapy utilizes high-energy beams to destroy cancer cells or shrink tumors. While not the first-line treatment, it may be employed in specific cases where surgery is not feasible or to alleviate symptoms caused by the cancer.


Targeted Therapy – Targeted therapy utilizes drugs that specifically target vulnerabilities in cancer cells, hindering their growth and spread. These medications, such as tyrosine kinase or mTOR inhibitors, are particularly effective for advanced or metastatic kidney cancer.


Chemotherapy – Chemotherapy drugs aim to destroy rapidly dividing cancer cells, but their use in kidney cancer is typically limited due to the tumor’s inherent resistance to these drugs.


Kidney Cancer Prevention through Lifestyle Choices


Preventing kidney cancer involves adopting a healthy lifestyle and making conscious choices. A kidney cancer diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins can help maintain a healthy weight and reduce the risk of cancer. Regular exercise is also essential, as it promotes overall health and aids in weight management.


What are the Side Effects of Treatment and Potential Long-term Health Implications?

Treatment for this disease may cause side effects that vary depending on the treatment modalities used. Common side effects include fatigue, nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, hair loss, and changes in kidney function.


Long-term health implications may include kidney damage, increased risk of cardiovascular disease, and potential secondary cancers. It’s important to discuss possible side effects and long-term effects with your healthcare team to make informed decisions and manage them effectively.



Kidney cancer is treatable. It can also be prevented. Knowing your risks, symptoms, and treatment options will help you make an informed decision about your healthcare and prevent kidney cancer from occurring in the first place. Contact us today to learn more.