Infographic: Kidney Cancer

Getting a Jump on Treating Kidney Cancer

Your kidneys filter your blood, to remove excess water, salt, and waste, and produce important hormones.

Two main types of kidney cancer:

  • Renal cell carcinoma forms tumors within the meat of the kidney; this accounts for more than 90% of all cases. There are many different varieties of renal cell carcinoma.
  • Transitional cell cancer is rarer, and forms in the lining of the urinary tract, including the drainage system of the kidneys.

Reported kidney cancer rates have risen.

Reported new cases of kidney cancer per 100,000 people.

  • 10.4 in 1993
  • 13.0 in 2003
  • 14.9 in 2013

The rise is believed to be due to:

  • An increase in incidence rate of early stage and advanced disease.
  • Increased use of advanced imaging in unrelated examinations. This has led to the discovery of pre-symptomatic cases of kidney cancer, which are often in earlier stages where treatment is more effective.

Risk factors

  • Increasing age
  • Smoking
  • Obesity
  • Sedentary lifestyle
  • High blood pressure
  • Treatment for kidney failure

Early detection

When caught early, 5-year survival rates exceed 90%.


Early stage kidney cancer is most often detected during unrelated imaging procedures, as symptoms don't commonly present until later stages. However, symptoms could include:

  • Blood in urine
  • Back pain
  • Weight loss
  • Fatigue
  • Intermittent fever

A range of treatments are available.

  • Active monitoring

    If the tumor is small, in some circumstances urologists may recommend monitoring the tumor for risk; if treatment is eventually needed, the delay does not compromise success.

  • Partial nephrectomy

    Urologist removes the part of the kidney impacted by tumors; in many cases this can be done with minimally invasive procedures, including robotic surgery.

  • Ablative techniques

    Cryoblation freezes cancer cells to kill them. Radiofrequency ablation heats cancer cells to kill them.

  • Radical nephrectomy

    Urologist removes the entire affected kidney — most people only need one kidney. In many cases, this can be done with minimally invasive procedures, including robotic surgery.

  • Multidisciplinary care

    In advanced cases where the cancer has spread, drug therapy is often combined with surgery and other treatments to improve outcomes.