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Kidney (Renal Cell) Cancer

Renal cell carcinoma (RCC, also known as hypernephroma) is a kidney cancer that originates in the lining of the proximal convoluted tubule, the very small tubes in the kidney that filter the blood and remove waste products. RCC is the most common type of kidney cancer in adults. Although RCC usually grows as a single mass (tumor) within a kidney, sometimes there are 2 or more tumors in one kidney or even tumors in both kidneys at the same time. Some of these cancers are noticed only after they have become quite large, but most are found before they metastasize (spread) to distant organs in the body. 


Often they are found on CT scans or ultrasounds that are being done for concerns other than kidney cancer. Like most cancers, RCC is hard to treat once it has spread. 

The exact cause of renal cell cancer has not been determined. A number of different factors seem to contribute to renal cell cancer. These factors include the following:

  • Cigarette smoking doubles the risk of renal cell cancer
  • Obesity is a risk factor. As body weight increases, so does the risk of developing renal cell cancer. This is especially true in women.
  • Occupational exposure to petroleum products, heavy metals, solvents, coke-oven emissions, or asbestos
  • Cystic kidney disease associated with chronic (long-term) renal insufficiency
  • Cystic changes in the kidney and renal dialysis
  • Tuberous sclerosis
  • Hereditary renal cancer

Renal Cell Cancer Symptoms

In its early stages, renal cell cancer usually causes no noticeable symptoms. Symptoms may occur only when the cancer grows and begins to press on surrounding tissues or spread to other parts of the body. The symptoms vary considerably from person to person. 

Symptoms of renal cell cancer may include the following:

  • Hematuria (blood in the urine)
  • Pain in the flank (side or back above the waist) that will not go away
  • Noticeable mass (lump) in the flank
  • Weight loss
  • Fatigue (feeling tired)
  • Loss of appetite
  • Fevers
  • Night sweats
  • Malaise (feeling "blah")
  • Anemia ("low blood" due to an abnormally low number of red blood cells)

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