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Renal Cell Carcinoma: The Most Common Type of Kidney Cancer

smoking increases kidney cancer risk

Renal cell carcinoma (hypernephroma) is a form of kidney cancer that affects the cell lining of the tubles in the kidneys, through which urine passes.  Basically, this cancer causes uncontrolled growth of abnormal (malignant) cells in the tubles, which (if left untreated) can spread to other parts of the kidneys and body.

Renal cell carcinoma is not the only type of kidney cancer but it is the most common.  It accounts for more than 80 percent of adult kidney cancers and affects twice as many males as females.  It also tends to develop more frequently in men over the age of 60.

Other less common forms of kidney cancer Include transitional cell carcinoma (occurs in the area where the kidney and the ureters join) and renal sarcoma (develops in the connective tissues of the kidneys)

What Causes Renal Cell Carcinoma?

  • The causes of renal cell carcinoma are not completely known or understood.  Statistics suggest, however, that people who smoke are twice as likely to develop kidney cancer as non-smokers.  While not conclusive, it is believed that smoking is a leading cause of renal cell carcinoma.

  • Another possible cause is exposure to chemicals.  Since the kidneys' main function is to filter waste from the blood, they are highly exposed to many chemical substances.  Consequently, extensive exposure to some chemicals may increase the risk of kidney cancer.

  • It is also believed that the misuse of certain pain medicines, for extended periods, can increase the risk of developing renal cell carcinoma.

  • In some cases, genetics may play a part in the development of hypernephroma.  Persons with genetic conditions such as Von Hippel-Lindau disease may be at greater risk of developing renal cell carcinoma.

Stages of Renal Cell Carcinoma

  • Stage 1: This is the least severe stage.  The cancer is confined to the kidney and is no larger than seven (7) centimeters.

  • Stage 2: In this stage, the cancer is still confined to the kidney but has grown more than 7 centimeters.

  • Stage 3: At this stage, cancer is found in the kidney and in one nearby lymph node, adrenal gland or in the layer of fatty tissue around the kidney.

  • Stage 4: In stage 4, the cancer has not only spread to nearby lymph nodes but to other organs, such as the bowels, pancreas, or lungs.

kidney cancer stages

What are the signs and symptoms?

There may be no symptoms in the early stages.  As time progresses, however, symptoms may begin to manifest.  These may include the following:

  • constant pain in the side that may become progressively worse over time.

  • lump in the abdomen. This becomes noticeable when malignant cells in the kidney's tubles begin to grow and spread.

  • Loss of appetite accompanied by weight loss, for no apparent reason.

  • Blood in the urine (hematuria). This is usually a sign that something is wrong within the urinary system and should not be ignored. It can be a sign of conditions which are easily treatable, such as UTI or kidney stones, but it can also be a sign of renal cell carcinoma. Once there is blood in the urine, it is advisable to consult a doctor for an evaluation and determination of the cause.

  • Anemia.


Anyone who experiences any of these symptoms should promptly visit their doctor for an evaluation.  The earlier this condition is detected, the better the chances of effectively treating it.  The prognosis (chance of recovery) and treatment depends on the stage of the disease, as well as the patient's health and age.

Treatment Options for Renal Cell Carcinoma

Basically, there are four (4) standard treatment options. They are:

  • Surgery - Parts of or the entire kidney affected by malignant cells are removed. In some cases, surrounding cells and organs may also be surgically removed.  A partial nephrectomy is a surgical procedure to remove cancer cells within the kidney and in some of the surrounding tissue.  If the cancer has spread to the entire kidney a simple nephrectomy, to remove the entire kidney, may be necessary.  When cancer cells have spread to surrounding organs and tissues, a surgical procedure known as a radical nephrectomy removes the kidney, adrenal gland, surrounding tissues and possibly nearby lymph nodes.


  • Radiation therapy is another treatment option. This uses high energy radiation to kill cancer cells.


  • Chemotherapy - This treatment option uses drugs to stop the growth of cancer cells. It can be taken by mouth or by injection.

  • Finally, biologic therapy (also referred to as biotherapy or immunotherapy) is a treatment option that uses the patient's immune system to fight cancer cells. Substances are administered to boost the body's natural defenses against cancer.

The patient's physician usually recommends the most appropriate treatment option or options, which are largely determined by the patient's circumstances (age, health, etc.) and the stage of development of the cancer. Early detection and diagnosis offers the best opportunity for effectively treating renal cell carcinoma.

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