What Are the First Signs of Kidney Cancer?

The kidneys — small, bean-shaped organs deep inside the body — remove waste from the blood and produce urine. They also balance the body’s fluids and release hormones that regulate blood pressure.

Most kidney cancer (also known as renal cancer) diagnoses come with the results of one type of imaging test or another. These can include ultrasounds, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) tests, or computed tomography (CT) scans. In many cases, a doctor may have ordered a given test to diagnose a different medical condition.

Kidney cancer diagnoses in the United States have been on the rise for the past few decades. This is because of the wide availability and use of various imaging methods.

The increase in diagnoses may have also resulted in part from better and more accessible imaging tests. Performing these tests on individuals who have exhibited symptoms linked to kidney cancer has resulted in more frequent early detection. Early detection has also contributed to a lower death rate, which has been on the decline since the mid-1990s.

Understanding the First Signs of Kidney Cancer

Few early signs of kidney cancer are obvious. Kidney cancer pain is uncommon in its early stages, which can make early detection challenging. When the kidney tumor grows and advances to other organs or bones, symptoms are more likely to develop.

Kidney cancer symptoms are the same in both men and women. Some may mistake them for signs of other, less serious conditions. These symptoms may include:

  • Anemia. This condition involves a deficiency of red blood cells.
  • Fatigue. Feeling weak and lethargic.
  • Fever and/or night sweats. A common symptom of kidney cancer is a prolonged fever of more than 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit. This type of fever doesn’t result from an infection.
  • Loss of appetite. This may or may or may not result in weight loss.
  • Low back pain. You may feel pain on only one or both sides of your back, just under the rib cage. Pain is unlikely to go away when you shift your body or rest. This pain can feel similar to the pain that occurs when kidney stones block urine drainage from the kidney.
  • A mass or lump on the side or lower back. You can feel this swelling below your rib cage. It may present as a bulging bump beneath your skin.
  • Unintentional weight loss.

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What Are Some Kidney Cancer Risk Factors?

Studies have indicated that people who have kidney disease have a higher risk of developing kidney cancer. Reasons for those findings include:

  • A family history of kidney disease.
  • High blood pressure.
  • Obesity.
  • Smoking.

Other risk factors for developing kidney cancer include:

  • Immunosuppressant medicines. For individuals with serious kidney disease and candidates for kidney transplants, doctors often prescribe anti-rejection medicines. These immunosuppressant drugs are important, and without them, a body could reject a new kidney. However, these medicines can increase your risk of kidney cancer.
  • Long-term dialysis. Some
    research studies show that people on long-term dialysis have a nearly 500%
    additional risk of developing kidney cancer. Note: There’s no implication or inference that dialysis causes
    kidney cancer.

How Common Is Kidney Cancer?

In the U.S., kidney cancer is the sixth most common form of cancer for men and the ninth most common cancer for women.

Most people with kidney cancer get their diagnosis between the ages of 65 and 74. It’s rare for people under the age of 45 to get a kidney cancer diagnosis, but it does occur. Black and Native American individuals are more likely to develop kidney cancer than the general population.

Estimates project that 14,890 deaths (9,920 men and 4,970 women) will result from kidney cancer in the U.S. in 2023. According to the latest available statistics, the five-year relative survival rate for kidney cancer in the U.S. is 77%. Several factors impact the survival rate, including a person’s age and general health, but one key factor is early detection and treatment.

About one-third of the 300,000 kidney cancer survivors in the U.S. have or will develop kidney disease.

What Are Some Kidney Cancer Treatment Options?

Individuals diagnosed with kidney cancer have many options for treatment. Kidney cancer treatment options include:

  • Surgery (robotic, laparoscopic, or open).
  • Percutaneous cryoablation.
  • Targeted therapy, immunotherapy, or a combination of these treatments.

UPMC Hillman Cancer Center offers screening, diagnosis, and care for people facing kidney cancer. Our state-of-the-art facilities and programs offer the latest kidney cancer treatments, which we tailor to you.

We also offer risk reduction education and early detection services for many types of cancers.

Even if you’ve received kidney cancer screening or care at another center, UPMC Hillman Cancer Center has treatment options for you.

National Kidney Foundation. Kidney Cancer. Link.

American Society of Clinical Oncology. Kidney Cancer: Symptoms and Signs. Link.

American Society of Clinical Oncology. Kidney Cancer: Statistics. Link.

Urology Care Foundation. Urology A-Z. Kidney Cancer. Link

American Cancer Society. Kidney Cancer. Link.

About Urology

The UPMC Department of Urology offers a wide variety of specialized care for diseases of the male and female urinary tract and the male reproductive organs, including erectile dysfunction, kidney stones, urinary incontinence, prostate cancer, and more. We have a multifaceted team of physicians and researchers working together to provide the best care to both children and adults. Our team is nationally renowned for expertise in highly specialized technologies and minimally invasive surgical techniques. To find a provider near you, visit our website.

About UPMC Hillman Cancer Center

When you are facing cancer, you need the best care possible. UPMC Hillman Cancer Center provides world-class cancer care, from diagnosis to treatment, to help you in your cancer battle. We are the only comprehensive cancer center in our region, as designated by the National Cancer Institute. We have more than 70 locations throughout Pennsylvania, Ohio, and New York, with more than 200 oncologists – making it easier for you to find world-class care close to home. Our internationally renowned research team is striving to find new advances in prevention, detection, and treatment. Most of all, we are here for you. Our patient-first approach aims to provide you and your loved ones the care and support you need. To find a provider near you, visit our website.