Kidney Cancer

Kidney cancer is a type of cancer that arises in the
the cells that make up the kidney. The most common type of kidney cancer is renal cell carcinoma (90% of all cases).

There were 3059 new cases of kidney cancer diagnosed in Australia in 2013. Kidney cancer is twice as common in men than in women. In 2014, there were 920 deaths resulting from kidney cancer in Australia.

Unlike bladder cancer which is caused mainly by cigarette smoking, there have been no definitively identified or common environmental causes of kidney cancer.

It is not possible to predict the exact course of a kidney cancer, as it will depend on each person’s individual cancer size and extent of spread. In general, the earlier that a kidney cancer is diagnosed, the better the prognosis.

Kidney Cancer
Types of kidney lumps
  • Angiomyolipoma: a common benign lump in the kidney composed of abnormal number of blood vessels, fat and muscle cells. The benign lumps can cause bleeding if they grow to over 4 cm in size.
  • Oncocytoma – benign lesions that account for 3-5% of renal lumps.
  • Renal cancers may be of more specific types called clear cell carcinoma, papillary carcinoma chromophobe carcinoma and collecting duct carcinoma.
  • Urothelial cancer is a specific cancer of the lining of the inside of the kidney or the ureter. It is related to bladder cancer and the cancer of the lining of the inside of the bladder.

Kidney cancer may be associated with a number of rare genetic diorders.


Most kidney cancers are discovered incidentally while investigating for other conditions. Ocasionally, these symptoms may be present;

  • blood in the urine (haematuria)
  • pain or a dull ache in the side or lower back that is not due to an injury
  • a lump in the abdomen
  • constant tiredness or anaemia
  • rapid, unexplained weight loss

Urine test

A urine test will look for traces of blood or other abnormalities in your urine.

Blood tests

A blood sample may be taken to check for changes that could be caused by kidney cancer.

Imaging tests

If kidney cancer is detected, you may have scans to see if the cancer has spread to other parts of your body, such as an ultrasound, chest X-ray, CT scan, MRI, or PET scans


A needle biopsy may be performed if there is a doubt about the diagnosis of the kidney lump.



A radical nephrectomy (removal of the affected kidney) is the most common type of surgery for renal cell carcinoma. This surgery is performed via laparoscopic or keyhole techniques for the majority of tumours but may uncommonly require an open abdominal cut to remove larger cancers.

Read more about Laparoscopic Removal Kidney Procedure

A partial nephrectomy (removal of part of the kidney) may be an option for people who have a small tumour in one kidney (eg less than 4cm), people with cancer in both kidneys and those who have only one working kidney.

Read more about Partial Nephrectomy procedure

A nephroureterectomy is performed for cancers of the lining of the kidney or ureter and involves removal of the whole kidney and the ureter tube.

Read more about Nephroureterectomy

Radiofrequency ablation

Radiofrequency ablation heats the tumour with high energy radio waves to destroy the cancer. An Xray doctor inserts a needle into the tumour and an electrical current is passed into the tumour to heat it.


Standard radiotherapy is not effective in treating primary kidney cancer but it may be used in advanced kidney cancer to shrink tumours and relieve symptoms.

Targeted therapies

Targeted therapies may be recommended by your doctor if you have kidney that has already spread extensively into adjacent tissues or spread to other parts of the body. One type of this treatment are called the Tyrosine kinase inhibitors (TKIs).

Active surveillance

Small tumours may be observed safely and larger tumours may also be observed when patients are to unwell to undergo surgery or have other health conditions which may cause the patients death before the kidney cancer is likely to spread and cause problems.

Laparoscopic nephrectomy

Partial nephrectomy

Cancer Council Australia

Kidney Health Australia

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