Kidney cancer

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 (non-cancerous).

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.

Kidney cancer represents around 2% of all cancer diagnoses worldwide. In the last twenty years, the number of cases of kidney cancer worldwide 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.

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).

A kidney and its surrounding tissue, veins, and arteries.
Fig 1: A kidney and its surrounding tissue, veins, and arteries.

Treatment

If you are diagnosed with localised kidney cancer, your doctor can recommend treating the cancer with partial nephrectomy, radical nephrectomy, active surveillance, radiofrequency ablation, or cryotherapy. Each procedure has its own advantages and disadvantages. The choice of treatment depends on your individual situation.

If you are diagnosed with locally-advanced kidney cancer, your doctor can recommend to treat the cancer with radical nephrectomy or embolisation. Each procedure has its own advantages and disadvantages. The choice of treatment depends on your individual situation.

Kidney tumours can spread to other organs or distant lymph nodes. This is called metastatic disease. In metastatic disease, the kidney tumour is referred to as the primary tumour and the tumours in other organs are called metastases. Your doctor may recommend to treat metastatic disease with surgery, usually in combination with antiangiogenic therapy, also known as targeted therapy. In rare cases, immunotherapy is also used. For the treatment of metastases, radiotherapy may be recommended.

Generally, metastatic disease cannot be cured. The treatment of metastatic disease aims to reduce the size of the primary tumour and the metastases. This will give you the chance to live longer and have fewer symptoms.

In need of support?

The International Kidney Cancer Coalition (IKCC) is a global collaboration of patient organisations dedicated to kidney cancer patients.

This information was produced by the European Association of Urology, May 2014.

  • Dr. Bülent Akdogan,  Ankara (TR)
  • Dr. Sabine D. Brookman-May, Munich (DE)
  • Prof.Dr. Martin Marszalek, Vienna (AT)
  • Dr. Andrea Minervini, Florence (IT)
  • Prof. Haluk Özen, Ankara (TR)
  • Dr. Alessandro Volpe, Novara (IT)
  • Ms. Bodil Westman, Stockholm (SE)

This information was updated by the EAU Patient Information Working Group, March 2018.