Health Alert:

Starting Feb. 29, masking is optional but encouraged in UPMC medical facilities and most patient care settings.

Renal (Kidney) and Renal Pelvis Cancer Care

Renal Cancer Types, Symptoms, Risks, and Stages

Kidney or renal cancer affects more than 62,000 men and women each year. Kidney cancer accounts for only about three percent of new cancer cases each year, but it's among the 10 most common cancers.

UPMC Hillman Cancer Center offers screening, diagnosis, and care for people facing renal cancer. Our state-of-the-art facilities and programs offer the latest kidney cancer treatments, each of which we tailor to you.

We also offer risk reduction education and early detection services for many types of cancers.

Even if you've received kidney cancer screening or care at another center, UPMC Hillman Cancer Center has treatment options for you.

What is Renal Cancer

The role of our kidneys

Our kidneys:

  • Filter the blood of impurities.
  • Control the amount of water in the body.
  • Eliminate excess water and impurities by making urine.
  • Make hormones that help control blood pressure.
  • Let the body know when it needs to make more red blood cells.

Renal cancer occurs when cancer cells grow within the kidney or any of its parts.

If found early, renal cancer may be within only the kidney itself. If undetected, kidney cancer can spread to other organs in the belly or throughout the body.

Types of Renal Cancer

There are four main types of renal cancer:

  • Renal cell carcinoma — this is the most common type of kidney cancer, occurring mainly in adults. This type of cancer grows within very small tubes inside the kidneys, and it often forms one or more tumors.
  • Transitional cell carcinoma — this cancer occurs in the innermost part of the kidney (renal pelvis) or outside the kidney in the ureters. Ureters are the tubes that take urine from the kidneys to the bladder. This type accounts for 5 to 10 percent of renal cancers.
  • Renal sarcoma — this cancer, which grows in the kidney's blood vessels, accounts for just 1 percent of all kidney cancer cases.
  • Wilms tumor — this type of renal cancer is most common in children.

Renal tumors can also be benign (noncancerous). It can be hard to tell these tumors apart from malignant ones.

Benign kidney tumors include:

  • Renal adenoma — these small tumors grow slowly.
  • Oncocytoma — these tumors can grow to be very large.
  • Angiomyolipoma— this is the rarest of the benign kidney tumors. It mostly occurs in people with a specific genetic defect.

Some cancers that can also affect the kidneys are those that start in other body parts and spread to other organs.

Renal Cancer Signs and Symptoms

The most common symptom for renal cancer is blood in the urine. Nearly 60 percent of people experience this symptom, which may come and go.

Other symptoms of renal cancer include:

  • Blood work that shows anemia, which is a decrease in red blood cells.
  • Swelling in the belly.
  • Lower back pain, or pain in the side (flank), around your waist.
  • Weight loss and loss of appetite.

Call your doctor if you have any of these symptoms. Even if the cause isn't kidney cancer, they may be signs of other health problems that need treatment.

Renal Cancer Risk Factors

Although the exact cause of renal cancer is unknown, certain factors can increase risk of this disease.

Most people who have kidney cancer will have at least one risk factor. But, sometimes people get this type of cancer for unknown reasons.

You're at a higher risk for renal cell carcinoma — the most common type of cancer affecting the kidneys — if you are:

  • Male
  • Older than 45
  • African American
  • Native American

Renal cancer risk factors include:

  • African American or Native American race.
  • Age over 45.
  • Being male.
  • Being overweight.
  • Family history of renal cancer.
  • Prior diagnosis of renal cancer.
  • Occupational exposure to certain metals, herbicides, and solvents.
  • Past treatment with kidney dialysis.
  • Use of certain pain drugs and diuretics.
  • Smoking.
  • Genetic conditions including:
    • Birt-Hogg-Dube (BHD) syndrome.
    • Leiomyoma-renal cell carcinoma.
    • Papillary renal cell carcinoma.
    • von Hippel-Lindau syndrome.

Early Stages of Renal Cancer

Doctors often find renal cancer early through urine testing or during x-rays or CT scans for other health reasons.

Stages of cancer describe where it is and how much it has spread:

  • Stages I and II — the cancer affects the kidney only.
  • Stage III — the cancer has spread to the blood vessels attached to the kidneys or to nearby lymph nodes.
  • Stage IV — the cancer has spread to other parts of the body and to other organs.

Learn More About Renal Cancer

To learn more about renal cancer and kidney health, visit the UPMC HealthBeat blog for these posts:

Contact Us About Urologic Cancer Care

To learn more about urologic cancer care or to make an appointment, you can: