Kidney cancer

How common is it?

In the UK each year there are nearly 4000 new cases of kidney cancer in men, and over 2000 cases in women. There are over 60 cases a year diagnosed in Grampian. Men are more likely to develop the disease than women . Smokers are more likely to develop it than non-smokers. The NHS Grampian Smoking Advice Service can help you to give up.

What can increase my risk?

The kidneys are two bean-shaped organs located on either side of the spine just above the waist in the small of the back. Their main function is to filter blood and rid the body of excess water, salt and waste products. 

Like most cancers, kidney cancer becomes more common as you get older. Two-thirds of all kidney cancers occur in people over the age of 60. Kidney cancer is also more common in men: 60% of cases in men and only 40% in women. Obesity is a major risk factor, involved in one quarter of all cases of kidney cancer. Another major risk is smoking, which increases the risk of getting kidney cancer between two and three times.


What are the symptoms?

In the early stages kidney cancer does not generally cause any symptoms. Late symptoms include:

  • blood in the urine
  • low back pain unrelated to injury
  • a lump in the abdomen
  • fatigue and weight loss

The most common symptom, found in about half of all cases, is blood in the urine. However, only a minority of people with this symptom actually have cancer. In most cases it is caused by a kidney infection or kidney stones. Another quite common symptom is pain in the lower back or a swelling in the kidney area. Fatigue, weight loss, anaemia and sweating, which are the symptoms for many types of cancer, have also been reported.


Does the diet affect the risk of kidney cancer?

A high fat, western diet increases the risk of getting kidney cancer.


Does kidney cancer run in families?

Kidney cancer does not normally run in families, so having one or more relatives with this type of cancer would not increase your risk unless they were diagnosed under the age of 60. However, there are some rare inherited conditions which carry a very high risk of getting kidney and other cancers.


How will my doctor test for cancer?

People who notice any of these symptoms should see their doctor. The symptoms may have other causes, but should always be investigated. A specialist may carry out urine testing, blood tests, imaging tests such as an ultrasound scan and bladder examination (cystoscopy).


How is kidney cancer diagnosed?

The main methods of diagnosis are by X-ray, CAT scan or ultrasound scan. These tests can show if there is a mass in the kidney. Rarely, it may be followed by a biopsy: taking a small tissue sample from the mass, by inserting a thin needle. The tissue can be examined to determine if the mass is cancerous or not.


How is kidney cancer treated?

The main treatment is surgery to remove the affected kidney (nephrectomy), often it is possible to do this through keyhole surgery(laparoscopic nephrectomy) Most people have two kidneys and people can live perfectly well with the one remaining kidney. In a few cases, where the tumour is very small, it is possible to remove only part of the affected organ (partial nephrectomy). Newer treatments for kidney cancer include radio frequency abalation (RFA) which uses radiowaves to kill the cancer cells without removing the kidney, but the tumour must be small enough for this and Cryotherapy which freezes the tumour cells.

If the cancer has spread newer medications like sunitanib can be used to help treat the tumour and this can be used along side surgical treatment.

How effective are the treatments?

If the cancer is diagnosed at an early stage, before it has spread outside the kidney, survival rates are high. Once the tumour spreads outside the kidney, it is more difficult to treat. Treatment depends on how advanced the cancer is and the age of the patient.