Classic symptoms of kidney cancer are blood in the urine (known as hematuria), pain in the flank (the back area where the ribs meet the spine) and a mass felt during a physical examination.
Advances in imaging techniques have made it possible to detect kidney cancer earlier, even when a patient complains of a nonspecific stomach pain.
Other signs and symptoms can include:
- Intermittent fevers or night sweats
- Fever not associated with a cold or flu
- Fatigue and lethargy
- Unexplained weight loss that can sometimes be rapid
- Pain in other parts of the body if the cancer has spread
These signs or symptoms are not specific to kidney cancer itself. Indeed, kidney cancer is not the most common disease associated with the majority of these symptoms.
Today, most are discovered while very small in size and typically have no associated symptoms.
Some risk factors and familial diseases associated with kidney cancer include:
- High blood pressure.
- High fat diet.
- Gender—Men are almost twice as likely as women to develop kidney cancer.
- Cigarette smoking—Cigarette smokers are twice as likely as non-smokers to be diagnosed with kidney cancer.
- Occupational and chemical exposure—Exposure to some workplace solvents, asbestos and some forms of cadmium has been demonstrated to increase the risk of kidney cancer.
- Dialysis—People who have been on dialysis over long periods of time have an increased risk of developing kidney cancer. It is unknown why dialysis increases the risk of kidney cancer, but it may be the result of immunosuppression, the kidney disease that resulted in the kidney failure or a combination of factors.
- Von Hippel-Lindau disease—This inherited disorder is associated with several kinds of tumors around the body including conventional carcinoma or clear cell carcinoma of the kidney.
- Hereditary papillary renal cell carcinoma—People with this disorder have an increased probability of developing one or, more commonly, multiple kidney cancers of the papillary type.
- Birt-Hogg-Dube syndrome—People with this disorder are at increased risk of developing kidney cancer.
In the past, most kidney cancers were identified when patients complained of characteristic symptoms, such as blood in the urine and back pain.
Today, the majority of kidney cancers are discovered during sonograms, ultrasounds or other imaging techniques ordered for a a checkup or a general complaint.
Depending on the size of the mass, the probability of kidney cancer can be estimated. Smaller kidney masses can be benign growths 30 percent to 40 percent of the time. Larger growths are more likely to be malignant.
Kidney tumors are rarely biopsied for two reasons. First, there is a small chance that taking a sample could spread cancerous tissue. Second, there is a 20 percent chance of being a false negative because the biopsy missed the target lesion or may have missed a cancer within the target lesion.
Our UC Irvine Health kidney cancer specialists are skilled at minimally invasive approaches to removing the tumors with robot-assisted or laparoscopic surgical technques, as well as with cryoablation, a procedure that kills—ablates—tumors by freezing them. This procedure doesn't require incisions but rather special needles that puncture the skin to deliver freezing temperatures to the kidney tumors.
Learn more about our Ablative Oncology Center ›
You can decrease the risk of kidney cancer by avoiding or minimizing exposure to certain chemicals and radiation at home and in the workplace.
Regular exercise, eating a diet high in fruits and vegetables and low in fat, lowering your blood pressure and quitting smoking also lowers your risk for the disease.