Senior couple talking to doctor

Kidney Cancer

Kidney cancer, also called renal cancer, is one of the most common types of cancer in the UK.

It usually affects adults in their 60s or 70s. It is rare in people under 50. 12,500 people every year are diagnosed with kidney cancer every year in the UK. Often there is no apparent cause for developing kidney cancer, however risk factors include older age, smoking, obesity, high blood pressure and other family members who have kidney cancer.

Kidney cancer is assessed by a urologist or clinical nurse specialist after you are referred from your GP. They will ask you about any symptoms and your general health.

Tests may be ordered to help with finding out if cancer is present. These include blood tests, and ultrasound (US) or computed tomography (CT) scans. Occasionally, more information is needed by performing a guided biopsy (or tissue sampling) of a tumour.

The information allows the cancer to be given a stage (how big it has grown) and a grade (how quickly it can grow or spread). With this information, your Urologist can best advise you on how it can be treated.

Treatment depends on many things, such as position, type, stage and grade of the cancer. The options available would depend on these factors and the general health of the patient. If possible, the aim would be to cure or remove the cancer completely. If the cancer has spread to other organs beyond the kidney, treatments may be aimed at controlling or slowing the growth of cancer. Other treatments are aimed at controlling the symptoms of the cancer, such as relieving pain or other discomfort.

Surgery is the main treatment for kidney cancer. It is performed with the aim of completely removing the cancer. Removal of part, or whole kidney may be performed through open or keyhole surgery.

Radiotherapy is the use of high energy radiation beams directed at the tumour to destroy the cancerous cells. It can be used in addition to surgery, or aimed at sites to where the cancer has spread (such as bones, lung, brain). If a patient’s general health is too poor to undergo an operation, radiotherapy can be used to treat the primary kidney cancer.

In small kidney cancers, tumour ablation can sometimes be performed instead of surgery, or if you are not fit enough for an operation. This is where the cancer cells are destroyed through heating or freezing the tumour.

Embolisation is a procedure for patients who usually cannot have surgery. The procedure uses x-ray guidance to cuts off the blood supply by blocking off the blood vessels to the tumour. This causes shrinkage of the tumour and can improve symptoms.

If tumours look low grade or slow growing, doctors may recommend just monitoring the cancer. This is to delay treatment until it is needed.

Immunotherapy is the use of medicines which stimulate the body’s own immune system to attack the cancerous cells. They can be used to decrease the likelihood of cancer coming back after surgery, or used in some types of advanced kidney cancer.

Your doctor and nurse specialists will discuss the risks and benefits of treatments available to you, their side effects and what things you should think about before taking a decision.

After treatment for kidney cancer, we will continue to monitor you with regular check-ups with your Urologist or clinical nurse specialist. How often and for how long will depend on the type of cancer and treatment you received.

Most kidney cancers are renal cell cancers (RCC), most common is clear cell RCC, then papillary RCC, and least common is chromophobe RCC.

Other cancers of the kidney include transitional cell carcinoma (also known as urothelial cancer). This originates from the lining of the ureter (the water pipe collecting system which drains the kidney and connects the kidney to the bladder).

Small kidney cancers often do not cause any symptoms. These are frequently detected on scans investigating other problems.

When kidney cancers do cause symptoms, these include blood in the urine (most common), dull pain or ache in the back or upper abdomen, feeling a lump or mass, high temperatures and sweats, or unintentional weight loss.

These symptoms will usually be caused by other more common conditions in the majority of people, however it is important to see your doctor if you have any of these symptoms.

The Cancer Care Line

  Contact The Cancer Care Line:  01227 868666

 (Monday to Friday 9am - 5pm, Saturday and Sunday 8am - 4pm)

This is a central helpline for all patients who have come into contact with a Macmillan Clinical Nurse Specialist or the Macmillan Acute Oncology Team. Not all people that are given this number have cancer, some maybe undergoing investigations to rule it out.

The people that answer your calls are not medically trained and in order for them to direct you to correct person/ team, they will ask for some clinical and personal information.

The Macmillan Clinical Nurse Specialists run designated phone clinics, therefore if appropriate you will be booked onto the next available telephone clinic which may not be the same day. 

If the Cancer Care Line Co-ordinator's triage indicates you require urgent clinical advice, you will be put through to the specialist nurse of the day.