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Kidney cancer is a serious disease that occurs when cancerous cells first develop in the kidneys. Risk factors for the disease include smoking, being obese, and having high blood pressure. Common symptoms of kidney cancer include blood in the urine, weight loss, and chronic pain in the side. Treatment options for kidney cancer may include surgery, arterial embolization, and chemotherapy, among other things.

What Is Kidney Cancer?

Kidney cancer is a disease in which malignant (cancerous) cells first form in the tissues of the kidneys. There are several different types, including:
 
  • Renal cell carcinoma (cancer that forms in the lining of very small tubes in the kidney that filter the blood and remove waste products)
 
  • Renal pelvis carcinoma (cancer that forms in the center of the kidney where urine collects)
 
  • Wilms' tumor, which usually develops in children under the age of five.
 
Renal cell carcinoma is the most common type of kidney cancer, and is the focus of this series of articles. This article will use the term "kidney cancer" to refer to renal cell carcinoma (also known as renal cell cancer).

(Click Kidney Cancer Types for more information.)
 

Understanding the Kidneys

To understand kidney cancer, it may help to know more about the kidneys and how they function. Key information about the kidneys includes the following:
 
  • The kidneys are a pair of organs on either side of the spine in the lower abdomen (stomach).
 
  • Each kidney is about the size of a fist. Attached to the top of each is an adrenal gland.
 
  • A mass of fatty tissue and an outer layer of fibrous tissue (Gerota's fascia) enclose the kidneys and adrenal glands.
 
  • The kidneys are part of the urinary tract, which makes urine by removing wastes and extra water from the blood. Urine collects in a hollow space (renal pelvis) in the middle of each kidney and passes from the renal pelvis into the bladder through a tube called a ureter. Urine leaves the body through another tube (the urethra).
 
  • The kidneys also make substances that help control blood pressure and the production of red blood cells.
 
Written by/reviewed by:
Last reviewed by: Arthur Schoenstadt, MD
Last updated/reviewed:
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