About Your Kidneys

Your kidneys are a pair of organs each about the size of a fist. As part of the urinary tract, their main job is to make urine by removing waste and extra water from your blood before sending this liquid into your bladder.

Your kidneys also help control blood pressure by making a hormone called renin. They also help make sure the body has enough red blood cells by making a hormone called erythropoietin.

An artistic rendering of the kidneys

Kidney Cancer

Kidney cancer is also called renal cancer. It is one of the ten most common cancers in both men and women. In 2019, about 73,820 new cases of kidney cancer will occur.

Kidney cancer cells can spread through the lymph nodes and blood vessels to the lungs, bones or liver. When this happens, the cancer has metastasized and new tumors may form in those parts of the body.

These are the two most common types of kidney cancers:

Renal cell carcinoma:

About 9 out of 10 kidney cancers are renal cell carcinomas. About 54,000 Americans are diagnosed with renal cell carcinoma each year. Most are over 55 years old.

Transitional cell carcinoma:

About 5 to 10 of every 100 cancers in the kidney are transitional cell carcinomas. These carcinomas don’t start in the kidney itself but in the lining of the renal pelvis.


Kidney Cancer Staging

If you are diagnosed with kidney cancer, your doctor will determine the stage of the disease. Staging is a way of classifying cancer by how much of the disease is in your body and whether it has spread. This helps doctors plan the best way to treat the cancer.

Your doctor may order one or more tests:

Blood tests:

Some people with kidney cancer have high levels of calcium or LDH in their blood.

Chest X-ray:

A chest X-ray can show if kidney cancer has spread to your lungs.

CT scan:

This scan can show cancer in your lymph nodes, lungs or elsewhere.


An MRI can show cancer in your blood vessels, lymph nodes or other tissue in the abdomen.

These are the stages of kidney cancer:

Stage 1:

The tumor is no bigger than a tennis ball and cancer cells are found only in the kidney.

Stage 2:

The tumor is bigger than a tennis ball, but cancer cells are found only in the kidney.

Stage 3:

The tumor can be any size. It has spread to at least one nearby lymph node, or to nearby blood vessels.

Stage 4:

The tumor has grown through the outer layer of the kidney, or cancer cells have spread to lymph nodes, the lungs, liver, bones or other tissue.


Frequently Ask Questions About Kidney Cancer

What are Kidney Cancer Symptoms?

What Is The Difference Between A Kidney Tumor And Kidney Cysts?

Are There Any New Advances On the Horizon For Kidney Cancer?

What Is The Difference Between A Kidney Tumor And Kidney Cysts?

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and Symptoms of Kidney Cancer

Common symptoms of kidney cancer include:

  • Blood in your urine, which may look rusty in color
  • Pain in your side that doesn’t go away
  • A lump or mass in your side or abdomen
  • Weight loss
  • Fever
  • Feeling very tired
Risk Factors

Kidney Cancer Risk Factors

Doctors can’t explain why kidney cancer occurs, but they have identified several risk factors for this type of cancer:

Smoking: People who smoke have a higher risk of getting kidney cancer. The longer you smoke, the greater the risk.

Obesity: Being obese increases the risk of kidney cancer.

High blood pressure: Having high blood pressure may increase the risk of kidney cancer.

Family history of kidney cancer: People with a family member who had kidney cancer have a slightly increased risk. Certain diseases that run in families also increase the risk of kidney cancer. One is Von Hippel-Lindau syndrome, known as VHL. People with changes in the VHL gene face a greater risk.


How Kidney Cancer is Diagnosed

Our urologists diagnose and treat kidney cancer with the most advanced therapies available. We provide focused, personalized care with a team of specialists that will help you make informed decisions.

In order to reach a diagnosis for kidney cancer, we take a thorough medical history and conduct a physical examination to be as accurate as possible. We’ll ask questions, make note of any symptoms you may have experienced and include any other pertinent information.

The following tests may be used to diagnose kidney cancer or to find out if it has spread:

Urine tests:

A lab checks your urine for blood, cancer cells and other signs of disease.

Blood tests:

A lab checks your blood for several substances, including creatinine. A high level of creatinine may mean the kidneys aren’t doing their job.


An ultrasound creates a picture of your kidney and nearby tissue and can show a kidney tumor.

CT scan:

An X-ray machine linked to a computer can show cancer in the kidneys, lymph nodes or other tissue in the abdomen.


A machine with a magnet linked to a computer is used to make detailed pictures that can show cancer in your kidneys, lymph nodes or other tissue in the abdomen.


An injection of dye collects in your kidneys and an X-ray is taken to detect a tumor or other problems.


Your doctor inserts a thin needle to remove a sample of tissue from the kidney. The tissue is examined for cancer cells.

When to See a Provider

Submit an online appointment request or call 310-582-7137  if you have signs and symptoms that worry you.