Treatments vary depending on the type and stage of kidney cancer.

Kidney cancer can originate in one or both kidneys. Signs of kidney cancer can include back pain and blood in the urine, but most kidney cancers are found with MRIs, CT scans, or ultrasounds.

  • If signs of cancer are present, further tests will likely be done to determine whether the cancer has metastasized and to what stage it has progressed.
  • The stage of cancer can determine what types of treatment are used.

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Types of Kidney Cancer

There are several types of kidney cancer that cause various tumors. The most common type of kidney cancer is called renal cell carcinoma, making up around 85% to 90% of all kidney cancers. Other types of tumors are transitional cell carcinomas, Wilms tumors, renal sarcoma, and benign kidney tumors.

Renal cell carcinoma: This cancer generally begins as a small mass that grows over time, but may also appear as several tumors. There are five subtypes of renal cell carcinoma: clear cell, papillary, chromophobe, collecting dust, and "unclassified." The type of cancer a patient has is determined by examining the tumor under a microscope. Clear cell carcinoma cells appear very pale or clear, while papillary cells have finger-like projections. Chromophobes are pale as well, but are larger. Collecting dust type, which is the rarest form of renal cell carcinoma, has cells that can grow into irregular tube shapes. Renal carcinomas that do not fit into any of these categories are considered to be "unclassified."

Transitional cell carcinoma: This type has the same signs and symptoms as renal cell carcinoma but looks like bladder cancer cells when examined under a microscope. Approximately 5% -10% of all renal tumors are transitional cell carcinomas, which originate in the junction of the ureter and kidney. Like bladder cancer, transitional cell carcinomas have shown to be caused by external factors such as cigarette smoking and occupational exposure to carcinogens.

Wilms tumors and renal sarcoma: The two least common types of kidney tumors are Wilms tumors and renal sarcomas. Wilms tumors are generally found in children and account for approximately 5% - 6% of kidney tumors. Renal sarcomas are extremely rare and originate in the connective tissue of the kidney.

Benign tumors: These are non-cancerous but can cause health problems. There are three types of benign tumors: renal adenoma, oncocytoma, and angiomyolipoma. Renal adenomas resemble renal cell carcinomas. Oncocytomas can grow quite large, but do not normally spread to other organs. Angiomyolipoma are generally found in people with tuberous sclerosis.

Kidney Functions

Most people have two kidneys, which play multiple important roles including balancing fluids, regulating electrolytes, eliminating waste through urine, and maintaining the body's acid-base balance. Overall health can be affected by any dysfunction or injury to the kidneys. If the kidneys are not able to complete these functions the patient may need to have dialysis.


If the cancer is contained to one kidney and has not metastasized, treatment may include removal of the kidney. Other treatments include chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery. Cancer that has spread to other parts of the body may need more aggressive treatments.

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Jaime Landman, M.D.
Kidney Stones & Kidney Disease
Professor and Chairman
Greg E. Gin, M.D.
Urologic Oncology, Minimally Invasive Surgery
HS Assistant Clinical Professor
Cory M. Hugen, M.D.
Urological Cancers
HS Assistant Clinical Professor
Edward Uchio, M.D., F.A.C.S., C.P.I.
Urological Cancers
Mark Jordan, M.D., F.A.C.S., F.R.C.S. (C)
Urological Cancers
Residency Program Director, HS Clinical Professor

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