About Kidney Cancer - A Quick
This is a brief summary of the information
on ‘About kidney cancer’ from
CancerHelp UK. You will find more
detailed information on the website.
In this information there are sections on
– The kidneys
– Risks and causes of kidney cancer
– Screening for kidney cancer
– Symptoms of kidney cancer
– Types of kidney cancer
– Guidelines for seeing a kidney cancer
– Questions for your doctor
The kidneys are two bean-shaped organs
about the same size as a fist. They are
located near the middle of the back, one on
either side of the spine. The kidneys are
part of the body system called the urinary
system. They filter the blood. As the
blood passes through them, waste products
and unneeded water are collected and
turned into urine. This happens in tiny
tubes called nephrons. Each kidney has
about 1 million nephrons.
About Kidney Cancer 01
The urine drains into the bladder down a This is called hereditary or familial
tube called the ureter. There are 2 ureters kidney cancer. Certain inherited
– one from each kidney. Another tube conditions also increase the risk.
called the urethra carries the urine from the • Being obese
bladder out of the body. • Having kidney disease that needs
The kidneys also produce three important Other risk factors that have been
hormones. Erythropoietin (EPO) tells the investigated and may increase risk include
bone marrow to make red blood cells. high blood pressure and heavy use of mild
Renin regulates blood pressure. Calcitriol painkillers, such as aspirin, paracetamol, and
(a form of Vitamin D) helps the intestine to 'non steroidal anti inflammatory drugs'
absorb calcium from the diet. (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen.
The adrenal glands Screening for kidney cancer
Above each kidney, there is a small gland Screening means testing people for the
called the adrenal gland. The adrenal glands early stages of a disease before they have
make several hormones that are vital for any symptoms. But before screening for
life. If you have a kidney removed, you may any type of cancer can be carried out,
have the adrenal gland above it removed doctors must have an accurate test to use.
too. You can manage perfectly well with The test must be reliable in picking up
one adrenal gland, but if both are removed cancers that are there. And it must not
you will need to take hormone tablets give false positive results in people who do
every day. not have cancer. At the moment there is
no reliable screening test for kidney cancer
Risks and causes of kidney cancer for the general population.
Kidney cancer is now the 8th most
common cancer in the UK (excluding non If one of the inherited syndromes that
melanoma skin cancer). Nearly 2 out 3 increase the risk of kidney cancer runs in
people diagnosed are over 65 years old. your family, you may be offered screening.
Kidney cancer is rare in people under 50. It This means having an ultrasound or MRI
affects many more men than women. This scan of your kidneys every year. Further
could be because in the past more men genetic tests may become available in the
smoked cigarettes. future.
There are some kidney cancer risk factors Symptoms of kidney cancer
we know about. These are When kidney cancer first starts to develop,
there are often no obvious symptoms.
• Smoking - If you smoke your risk could Increasingly, kidney cancers are being picked
be double that of a non smoker. up on ultrasound scans that are done for
• Chemicals at work - People working in other reasons. So they are being found at
some industries have a higher risk. an earlier stage. Once the cancer begins to
• Faulty genes - Some people inherit a grow, the symptoms can become more
tendency to develop kidney cancer. obvious.
About Kidney Cancer 02
Blood in the urine nephrons that help filter the blood and
This is the most common symptom of make urine).
kidney cancer. Your doctor may call this
haematuria. About half of those diagnosed There are several different types of renal
with kidney cancer will have this symptom cell cancer. The most common is called
when they first go to the doctor. clear cell. All types of renal cell cancer are
treated in the same way.
Sometimes the blood cannot be seen by
the naked eye but can be picked up by a Other types of kidney cancer
simple urine test. If you ever see blood in Another type of kidney cancer is called
your urine, you should go to the doctor. transitional cell cancer (TCC) of the renal
But most people who have blood in the pelvis. It is less common. About 7 or 8 out
urine do not have kidney cancer. In most of every 100 (7 to 8 %) kidney cancers
cases it is caused by an infection, diagnosed in the UK are TCCs. The
enlargement of the prostate or kidney treatment for this type of kidney cancer is
stones. similar to the treatment for bladder cancer.
A lump A type of kidney cancer called Wilms'
Most kidney cancers are too small to feel. tumour can affect children. This is different
But see your doctor straight away if you feel from kidney cancer in adults.
a lump or swelling in the area of your
kidneys. Guidelines for seeing a kidney
Other symptoms It can be very difficult for GPs to decide
Some people have other vague symptoms who may have a suspected cancer and who
including tiredness, loss of appetite, weight may have something much less serious.
loss, high temperature with very heavy The National Institute for Health and
sweating, a pain in the side that won’t go Clinical Excellence (NICE) have produced
away, or a general feeling of poor health. guidelines for GPs to help them decide
But remember that all these symptoms can which patients need to be seen urgently by
be caused by many other conditions that a specialist.
are not cancer.
Guidelines for urgent referral
Types of kidney cancer According to Department of Health
guidelines, you should ideally get an
Renal cell cancer appointment within 2 weeks for an urgent
Renal cell cancer is the most common type referral. The symptoms that NICE say need
of kidney cancer in adults. More than 8 in urgent referral are
every 10 (80%) kidney cancers diagnosed in
the UK are this type. Renal cell cancer is • Blood in your urine, with no symptoms
also called renal adenocarcinoma or of urine infection (like pain, frequency
hypernephroma. In renal cell cancer the or urgency of passing urine)
cancerous cells are found in the lining of the
tubules (the smallest tubes inside the
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