Kidney Cancer

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Kidney Cancer Facts

Kidney cancer is a type of cancer that starts in the kidneys. It is among the ten most common cancers in both men and women. The risk is higher in men than in women. Kidney cancer is uncommon in people younger than age 45; it occurs most often in people 55 and older.

While the rate of people being diagnosed with kidney cancer has been slowly rising since the 1970s, the death rate has been slowly declining since the 1990s. The American Cancer Society estimates approximately 64,770 new cases and about 13,570 deaths from kidney cancer in the United States in 2012.

There are four types of kidney cancer, including renal cell carcinoma, transitional cell carcinoma, Wilms tumor, and renal sarcoma. There are also three types of benign (non-cancerous) kidney tumors: renal adenoma, oncocytoma, and angiomyolipoma. For more information, see types and stages.

Learn more about the symptoms, diagnosis, and risk factors for kidney cancer.

Prognosis (chance of recovery) and treatment options depend on a number of factors, including:

  • Type of kidney cancer
  • Stage of the cancer (size, location, and extent of tumor(s))
  • General health of the patient
  • Symptoms

There are more treatment options available for patients with kidney cancer than ever before. While the most common treatment is still surgery, many new targeted therapies have recently been FDA-approved. Patients at Seattle Cancer Care Alliance (SCCA) also have access to clinical studies of investigational treatment options being evaluated here and across the country.

To understand kidney cancer, it helps to have a basic knowledge of the kidneys.

Understanding the Kidneys

Your kidneys are a pair of organs that lie in the back of your abdomen. Each kidney is about the size of a fist. They are part of the urinary tract; they make urine by removing waste and extra water from your blood. Your kidneys also make substances to help control blood pressure and to make red blood cells.

image of kidneys At the top of each kidney is an adrenal gland. A layer of fatty tissue and an outer fibrous tissue surrounds the kidney and adrenal gland. See diagram to the right (source: National Cancer Institute Allan Hoofring-Illustrator).

While kidneys are important, you actually need less than one complete kidney to function and some people, who do not have any working kidneys, survive with the help of dialysis—a specially designed machine that filters blood just like a kidney.