Kidney cancer most frequently affects people over 40 years of age, particularly men, with on average just over 10,100 cases diagnosed each year.
This cancer occurs when the genetic material of cells in the kidneys become damaged or changed, producing mutations that affect normal cell growth and division. The abnormal cells then replicate, causing cancer. If undetected, the cancer can spread beyond the kidney and move to other parts of the body.

Risks and causes of kidney cancer

The precise causes of kidney cancer are unknown, but there are a number of associated risk factors. These include:

  • Smoking
  • Obesity
  • Diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • Excessive alcohol consumption
  • Kidney disease
  • Undergoing dialysis
  • Family history of kidney cancer
  • Having a pre-existing inherited condition such as:
    • Tuberous sclerosis – a rare genetic condition that causes multiple non-cancerous (benign) tumours to grow in the body
    • Hereditary papillary kidney cancer – a rare form of cancer caused by faulty genes inherited from your parents; which causes small, slow-growing, cancerous tumours to develop in the kidneys, which can sometimes spread
    • Hereditary leiomyomatosis and renal cell carcinoma (HLRCC) – a rare, form of cancer, where cancerous tumours develop from smooth muscle tissue (leiomyomatas)
    • Von Hippel-Lindau (VHL) syndrome – a rare genetic syndrome that causes small non-cancerous tumours to develop inside the nervous system
    • Birt-Hogg-Dubé syndrome – an inherited syndrome that causes non-cancerous tumours to develop in the hair follicles of the skin; they usually occur on the face, neck and torso

Symptoms of kidney cancer

The symptoms of kidney cancer include:

  • Blood in urine
  • Lump or swelling in the area of the kidneys
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Fatigue
  • Fever
  • Persistent pain in the lower back or below the ribs

If any of these symptoms apply to you, or if you have any concerns about similar symptoms, it is essential that you see your doctor at once, as your chances of recovery are much higher if your cancer is diagnosed early.

How is kidney cancer diagnosed?

Your consultant or oncologist will advise you on which tests are relevant to your individual symptoms. The symptoms of kidney cancer can also indicate a wide range of other kidney problems and disorders, so it is vital that the patient receives an accurate diagnosis. The tests used to identify kidney cancer include:

  • A physical examination and full medical history check
  • Cystoscopy, which is a medical procedure to take a look inside the bladder
  • Ultrasound
  • Intravenous Urogram: which is a series of x-rays taken of the kidneys to assess their health
  • A CT scan: which shows a 3D image of the area being looked at
  • An MRI scan: is a procedure that uses a magnet, radio waves, and a computer to make a series of detailed pictures of areas inside the body
  • A biopsy: involves taking a sample of the kidney to check for abnormalities
  • Nuclear medicine bone scan

Kidney cancer treatment

Patients with kidney cancer are treated by a team of different specialists, called a multidisciplinary team. This team works together to create a treatment plan to suit the individual needs of the patient. Treatments for kidney cancer usually depend on the size and spread of the cancer, and because of this procedure varies according to individual circumstances. The range of treatments available includes:

  • Surgery to remove the cancerous tissue
  • Radiotherapy: high-energy rays are used to destroy the cancer cells
  • Chemotherapy and Biotherapy can be effective in treating kidney cancer
  • Immunotherapy: is a treatment that actually uses your body’s own immune system to help fight cancer
  • Cryotherapy: is the process of using extremely cold temperatures to treat tumours by killing abnormal cells
  • Radiofrequency ablation: is a treatment that uses the heat made by radio waves to destroy cancer cells