The American Cancer Society estimates that more than 58,240 people received a kidney cancer diagnosis in 2010. In the 1980s, up to 80% of kidney cancers were in advanced stages when they were diagnosed. Today, thanks to more advanced detection methods, only about 40% of cases are advanced at diagnosis.
You have two kidneys, one on each side of the back above the waist. Kidneys filter blood, and the waste is carried in the urine, which is produced by microscopic tubules. Urine flows into the ureter tubes and down into the bladder. Cancer arises from the microscopic tubules inside the kidney. Although kidney cancer usually grows as a single mass within the kidney, a kidney may contain more than one tumor, or tumors may be found in both kidneys.
Surgery offers the highest chance for successful treatment when kidney cancer has not spread. Once the cancer has spread beyond the kidney, the chance for successful treatment becomes much lower. Since 2006, new-generation drugs called targeted therapies have become available to control the cancer more successfully than prior medications.
Kidney Cancer Types
Renal cell carcinoma (cancer) (RCC) is the most prevalent form of kidney cancer. Types of RCC include clear cell, papillary, chromophobe and collecting duct carcinomas. Clear cell carcinoma accounts for 80% of all RCC cases, and most treatments are focused on this type.
Wilms’ tumor is a childhood cancer, responsible for 95% of pediatric kidney cancer cases.
Urothelial cancer of the kidney pelvis and ureter: Cancer of the urinary tract that occurs in the kidney or ureter is called urothelial carcinoma. It is not considered kidney cancer, although it is frequently called that in error.
Some cases of kidney cancer can be passed down from one generation to the next. Genetic counseling may be right for you. Learn more about the risk to you and your family on our genetic testing page.
Kidney Cancer Causes & Risk Factors
Anything that increases your chance of getting kidney cancer is called a risk factor. The biggest risk for kidney cancer is smoking.
Other kidney cancer risk factors include:
- Age: Most cases occur after age 50
- Gender: Men are more than twice as likely to get kidney cancer as women
- High blood pressure
- Exposure to asbestos, cadmium, and coke (used in making steel), benzene, herbicides and organic solvents
- Advanced kidney disease and long-term kidney dialysis
- Race: African-Americans have a slightly higher rate of kidney cancer
- Rare inherited conditions including von Hippel-Lindau disease or hereditary papillary renal cell carcinoma
- Family history of kidney disease
Not everyone with risk factors gets kidney cancer. However, if you have risk factors, it’s a good idea to discuss them with your doctor.
And at MD Anderson you’re surrounded by the strength of one of the nation’s largest and most experienced comprehensive cancer centers, which has all the support and wellness services needed to treat the whole person – not just the disease.