Symptoms, Risk and Prevention of Kidney Cancer

There are two types of kidney cancer seen at Siteman: renal cell cancer (also called renal adenocarcinoma, characterized by cancer cells found in the lining of tubules in the kidney; and transitional cell cancer of the renal pelvis and ureter, malignant cells that form in the renal pelvis where the ureters connect and in the ureters, the long tubes that connect the kidney to the bladder. The main goal at the Siteman Cancer Center is to get a correct diagnosis of your condition and decide on the proper treatment. Specialists here excel in using the technology and experience to make an accurate diagnosis, often down to the genetic level so the best treatment options may be identified.

Estimate your risk for kidney cancer.

Symptoms of Kidney Cancer

The majority of small tumors have no signs or symptoms and are found on radiology tests done for another reason. However, you may experience:

  • Blood in the urine
  • A lump in the abdomen
  • A pain in the back or side that doesn’t go away
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss for no known reason
  • Anemia
  • Painful or frequent urination

Risk Factors

Most patients don’t have an identifiable risk factor. However, kidney cancer has been linked to:

  • Smoking
  • Having certain genetic conditions, such as von Hippel-Lindau disease or hereditary papillary renal cell carcinoma
  • Being exposed to certain dyes and chemicals used in making leather goods, textiles, plastics, and rubber

Making a diagnosis of kidney cancer may involve different approaches. The following tests and procedures may be used:

  1. Physical exam and history to examine the patient’s past illnesses and treatments, and any signs of disease, or abnormalities.
  2. MRI or CT Scan for detailed pictures inside the body.
  3. Ultrasound: Imaging using sound waves instead of radiation to identify abnormal areas in the kidneys, or ureters.
  4. Laboratory tests, including:
  • Urinalysis: This test looks at a urine sample for its color and content, such as sugar, protein, red and white blood cells.
  • Urine cytology: A urine sample is examined under a microscope for abnormal cells.
  • Blood chemistry studies: A blood sample is checked to measure the amounts of certain substances released into the blood by the kidneys. An unusually higher or lower than normal amount can be a sign of kidney disease.
  • Liver function test: A blood sample is checked to look for unusual amounts of certain enzymes that might indicate the that cancer has spread to the liver.
  1. Ureteroscopy: A ureteroscope is inserted through the urethra into the bladder, ureter and renal pelvis. A tool may be inserted through the ureteroscope to biopsy tissue samples to be checked under a microscope for signs of disease.

After kidney cancer has been diagnosed, additional tests may be done to determine if the cancer has spread to other parts of the body.

Staging of Kidney Cancer

Staging is ranked 1 through 4 and recurrent, meaning the cancer comes back after treatment. Stage is an important factor in treatment options.


The prognosis (chance of recovery) depends on the following:

  • The stage and grade of the cancer.
  • The location of the tumor.
  • Whether the patient’s other kidney is healthy.
  • The patient’s age and general health.
  • Whether the cancer has recurred.

Most transitional cell cancer of the renal pelvis and ureter can be cured if found early.