What is kidney cancer?
Kidney cancer is a malignant cell growth (a tumour) in the kidneys. Its medical name is renal cell carcinoma. A tumour in the kidney can also be benign.
Kidney cancer is a general term. There are many variations of tumours in the kidney and stages of the disease. Your treatment and experience depend on the specific characteristics of the tumour and the expertise of your medical team.
The sections in this series provide general information about kidney cancer, diagnosis, and treatment options. Discuss your individual situation with your doctor.
What is the function of the kidneys?
The kidneys are two bean-shaped organs in the back of the abdomen which filter your blood and produce urine. They are important for various processes in the body, including regulating your blood pressure, the production of blood cells, and keeping your bones healthy (Fig. 1).
Kidney cancer represents around 2% of all cancer diagnoses worldwide. In the last twenty years the number of cases of kidney cancer in Europe has increased slightly, but the survival rate has also gone up in most of the region. Because of the more frequent use and improvements in ultrasound and CT imaging technology, more kidney cancers are now diagnosed at an earlier stage.
Men are more likely to be diagnosed with kidney cancer than women. Most people are diagnosed between the ages of 60 and 70.
Stages of the disease
There are different stages of kidney cancer. If the tumour is limited to the kidney and has not spread, this is called localized kidney cancer. In locally-advanced kidney cancer, the tumour has grown out of the kidneys into surrounding tissue and invaded veins, the adrenal gland, or lymph nodes. Doctors speak of metastatic disease if the cancer has spread either to distant lymph nodes or other organs.
Risk factors for kidney cancer
The causes of kidney cancer are often difficult to determine. General risk factors are smoking and obesity.
Having a first-degree relative with kidney cancer or high blood pressure are also potential risk factors. Certain lifestyle changes, most importantly quitting smoking and keeping a healthy weight, may reduce the risk of developing kidney cancer.