Kidney Cancer

What is kidney cancer?

Kidney cancer refers to cancer that develops within the kidney. The kidney plays an important role in removing excess water, salt and waste products from the blood which then becomes urine, alongside helping control certain processes in the body such blood pressure.

The types of kidney cancer include:

  • Renal cell carcinoma – cancer that develops in the kidney’s filtration system (proximal renal tubules). This is the most common type of kidney cancer, accounting for 90% of all kidney cancer diagnoses.
  • Urothelial carcinoma – cancer that develops in the transitional cells which line the renal pelvis (where the ureters meet the kidneys). This accounts for 5-10% of all kidney cancer cases and includes Hürthle cell carcinoma
  • Wilms tumour – cancer that develops in the kidneys from the abnormal growth of early kidney cells, most commonly in children
  • Renal sarcoma – rare cancer that develops in the connective tissue or blood vessels of the kidney. This accounts for less than 1% of all kidney cancer diagnoses

Kidney cancer is the seventh most common cancer in Australia, with 2 408 men and 1 219 women diagnosed each year.

Stages of kidney cancer

Kidney cancer can be described in stages depending on how early or advanced the cancer is.

The TNM system is used to stage kidney cancer and helps doctors understand what your cancer looks like. TNM stands for:

  • Tumour – the degree to which the tumour has affected other tissue.
  • Node – is a measure of whether lymph nodes have been affected.
  • Metastasis – the degree to which the cancer has spread to other organs of the body.

Signs and symptoms of kidney cancer

Kidney cancer can be difficult to detect as there are often no symptoms during the early stages. However, as the disease progresses symptoms may include:

Blood in urine

Pain or discomfort

in the lower back or side

Unexplained weight loss


A mass or lump

in the abdomen


Treatment for kidney cancer

Frequently asked questions

What are the risk factors for kidney cancer?

While the exact causes of kidney cancer are unknown, factors known to increase the risk of developing kidney cancer include:

  • Smoking
  • High blood pressure
  • Being overweight or obese
  • Receiving long-term treatment for chronic kidney failure
  • Having a family history of kidney cancer
  • Inherited conditions such as von Hippel-Lindau disease, Birt-Hogg-Dube syndrome, tuberous sclerosis complex, hereditary papillary renal cell carcinoma or familial renal cancer
How can kidney cancer be prevented?

To prevent kidney cancer, you should consider:

  • Quitting smoking
  • Having a healthy, balanced diet, with a variety of fruits and vegetables, and regularly exercising
  • Maintaining a healthy weight
  • Controlling high blood pressure

Certain substances such as trichloroethylene can increase the risk of renal cell carcinoma. Avoiding exposure to these substance in the workplace may also assist in preventing kidney cancer.

How is kidney cancer diagnosed?

There are many different tests that are used to diagnose kidney cancer, alongside a physical examination. This may include urine and blood tests and biopsy. Further tests may include CT scans, MRI, ultrasound, chest x-ray or radioisotope bone scans to detect if the cancer has spread.


For a full list of references, click here.
  1. Cancer Australia. (2020). Kidney cancer in Australia statistics. Retrieved on 3 May 2021 from
  2. Cancer Council. (2020). Kidney cancer. Retrieved on 3 May 2021 from
  3. Mayo Clinic. (2020). Kidney cancer. Retrieved on 3 May 2021 from
  4. American Cancer Society. (2020). Kidney Cancer. Retrieved on 3 May 2021 from
  5. American Society of Clinical Oncology. (2020). Kidney Cancer: Introduction. Retrieved on 3 May 2021 from
  6. Department of Health, State Government of Victoria. (2019). Kidney cancer. Retrieved on 3 May 2021 from
  7. Cancer Council Victoria. (2017). Kidney cancer. Retrieved on 3 May 2021 from

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