Cancer Types

Kidney Cancer

Information about kidney cancer

What is kidney cancer?

Your kidneys are bean shaped organs that are just below your rib cage and sit on each side of your spine. Your kidneys remove waste and make urine to keep your body healthy.

Kidney cancer develops when abnormal cells in the kidney grow in an uncontrolled way. If it is not found and treated early, kidney cancer can spread to other parts of the body.

In most cases kidney cancer only occurs in one kidney, in very rare cases the cancer may develop in both kidneys.

Who can be affected by kidney cancer?

Kidney cancer can affect anyone, but the risk of developing kidney cancer increases with age.

Risk factors

Anything that can increase your risk is called a risk factor. Having one or more of these risk factors does not mean that you will develop kidney cancer. Even if you have no risk factors you can still develop kidney cancer.

The risk factors for kidney cancer are:

  • Smoking
  • Obesity
  • High blood pressure
  • Having end-stage kidney disease
  • Family history of kidney cancer
  • Certain genetic syndromes (including von Hippel–Lindau disease, hereditary papillary renal cell carcinoma, Birt-Hogg-Dubé syndrome and Lynch syndrome)
  • Exposure to certain chemicals (such as cadmium)

Signs and Symptoms

Having kidney cancer may not cause symptoms in the early stages. Some people may experience at least one symptom before they are diagnosed. Symptoms can include:

  • Blood in your urine
  • Dark, rusty or brown coloured urine
  • Needing to urinate more often
  • Pain or a dull ache in the side or lower back
  • Feeling tried and weak (fatigue)
  • Weight loss for no reason
  • Fever not caused by a cold or flu


There are a number of tests that will be used to determine if you have kidney cancer. Your doctor is likely to require a blood and urine test as a starting point. Other tests that can be used for diagnosing kidney cancer are imaging scans which might include an ultrasound, a CT scan or an MRI scan.

A biopsy may also be carried out, where a small sample of cells is taken from the suspicious area of your kidney. Once this is done the cells will be looked at by a pathologist in a laboratory to decide if it is cancer.


The treatment for kidney cancer depends on the size of the cancer and whether the cancer has spread to other parts of the body.

The main treatment for kidney cancer is surgery where a surgeon will remove part (a partial nephrectomy), or all (a radical nephrectomy) of the affected kidney. When the tumour is only in the kidney this may be all that is required. One kidney is enough to remove waste and extra water that will keep your body well balanced.

Other treatments may include chemotherapy which is the medicines used to destroy cancer cells. Radiotherapy may also be offered as a treatment to reduce the symptoms of kidney cancer that has spread to other parts of the body.

Helpful websites:

Cancer Society, Kidney Cancer page

Cancer Council Australia, Kidney Cancer page