Kidney Cancer


Kidney cancer is one of the top 10 most common cancers in men and women. Each year, more than 60,000 Americans are diagnosed with kidney cancer. It’s more common in men, especially those in their 50s to 70s who are or were smokers. 

There are 4 different types of kidney cancer:

  • Renal cell carcinoma (RCC): This is the most common form of adult kidney cancer (about 85% of cases). RCC usually starts as a single tumor in one kidney, but it can affect both your kidneys and spread (metastasize) to other organs. It begins in the cells that line the small tubes that are part of the nephrons within your kidneys.
  • Transitional cell carcinoma: This form of kidney cancer usually begins in the area where a ureter connects to the main part of a kidney (called the renal pelvis). This cancer represents 6 to 7% of all kidney cancers and can also grow in your ureters or bladder.
  • Renal sarcoma: The least common form of kidney cancer (1% of cases), renal sarcoma begins in the connective tissues of your kidney. If left untreated, it can spread to nearby organs and bones.
  • Wilms’ tumor: The most common type of kidney cancer in children, it accounts for approximately 5% of total patients with kidney cancer.


Kidney cancer has few symptoms at the earliest stages. Later symptoms include:

  • Blood in your urine 
  • Back pain, just below your ribs
  • A lump in your abdomen
  • General symptoms, like fatigue, weight loss, fever, high blood pressure and swollen ankles.


You may have a series of tests in order to get a diagnosis and, if it is kidney cancer, to determine its stage. The tests you may have include: 

  • Urine test: This test checks for blood in your urine. 
  • Blood test: This procedure counts the number of each of the different kinds of blood cells to determine if there are too few red blood cells (anemia).
  • Intravenous pyelogram (IVP): This is a special type of X-ray. During an IVP, a dye that contains iodine is given through a needle inserted into a vein, and a series of X-rays are taken. The dye travels through your bloodstream and eventually into your kidneys, making your kidneys easier to see.
  • Computed tomography (CT) scan: This advanced X-ray system uses a computer to create a series of images – or slices – of your body to determine whether cancer is present. 
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI): Using a large magnet, radio waves and a computer, MRI tests produce detailed body images.
  • Ultrasound: Using high-frequency sound waves transmitted throughout your body tissues, ultrasound images prove helpful in detecting kidney tumors because they have a different density than healthy tissues.
  • Arteriogram: These X-ray images are captured after a contrast solution is injected to help your blood vessels become more visible.
  • Fine needle aspiration biopsy: A thin needle is inserted into the tumor, and a small sample of the tissue is removed (biopsy). A pathologist will look at the tissue under a microscope to see if there are any cancer cells.

Treatment Options

We collaborate with the National Cancer Institute, the Kidney Cancer Association and other top cancer organizations. This means you can expect the latest technologies, treatments and medications. 
Surgery is the most common kidney cancer treatment. Advanced surgical techniques give you more options, including minimally invasive surgical alternatives such as robotic surgery. 
Surgical treatments for kidney cancer include:
  • Radical nephrectomy: This is the most common type of kidney cancer surgery. In it, we remove your entire kidney through an open incision in your side. We can also do a radical nephrectomy with minimally invasive surgery, through small incisions in your abdomen, using a scope. Robotic surgery can be used, too.
  • Partial nephrectomy: In this surgery, we remove only the part of your kidney with the tumor. It’s an option if your tumor is small (less than 7 centimeters) and confined to the top or bottom of the organ. If it can be done, a partial nephrectomy has the advantage of preserving your kidney’s function. We can usually do it with minimally invasive surgery.
Non-surgical treatments include: 
  • Arterial embolization: This involves injecting a special material into the artery feeding blood to the cancerous kidney, blocking blood flow. This causes both the kidney and the tumor to die. Later, if you’re able to handle surgery, we can remove the kidney. 
  • Cryoablation: This minimally invasive procedure uses gas to essentially freeze your cancerous tumors.
  • Cancer immunotherapy: If you have cancer that has spread (metastatic cancer), you may be able to get high-dose Interleukin-2 treatment. Aurora St. Luke's Medical Center is currently the only hospital in Wisconsin to offer this FDA-approved treatment.
  • Targeted therapy: This treatment uses drugs or other substances that can find and attack specific cancer cells without harming normal cells. For example, there are substances that prevent blood vessels from forming (antiangiogenic agents) that are a type of targeted therapy. Used to treat advanced kidney cancer, these agents starve the tumor, causing it to shrink or stop growing.
  • Chemotherapy: Cancer-fighting drugs are frequently used in combination with other therapies.
  • Radiation therapy: Radiation therapy is delivered to kidney cancer cells but is mostly used if your cancer has spread to other parts of your body.

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