Symptoms of Kidney Cancer


Kidney cancer is the result of various mutations in the genetic structure of kidney cells which become malignant and grow out of control. This condition, also called renal cancer, results in the formation of a tumor in normal kidney tissue. As a result, this situation causes the symptoms of kidney cancer.

Almost all kidney cancers usually firstly begin in the lining of tiny structures called renal tubules. This type of kidney cancer is called Renal Cell Carcinoma (RCC). Renal Cell Carcinoma (RCC) is one of the 10 most common cancers in the world.

Kidney cancer is often diagnosed in people over 60 years of age. It is most commonly diagnosed accidentally during routine imaging tests for other reasons.

For more information about the causes of Kidney Cancer, you can read:
What Causes Kidney Cancer?


The good news is that the symptoms of kidney cancer can form before the spreading of cancer to other organs. Thus, kidney cancers may be detected at an early stage and are easier to treat successfully.

However, this may not always be the case. Sometimes the symptoms cannot be diagnosed as kidney cancer and as a result the tumor can reach a very large size until the correct diagnosis is made.

1. Early Warning Signs of Kidney Cancer

In many cases, kidney cancer does not give specific symptoms early. As the tumor grows, symptoms begin to appear, suggesting a diagnosis of kidney cancer.

In fact, there are normally two kidneys in your body. And if one of them loses its functions, it doesn’t cause any problems. However, if you have a tumor in one of your kidneys, this is not the case.

Generally, the most common sign of kidney cancer is hematuria which means the blood in the urine. Blood may take the urine look rusty or dark red.

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A person with kidney cancer may also experience one or more of the symptoms listed below;

  • Swelling in ankles or legs
  • Lump in the abdomen or side
  • Anemia
  • Loss of appetite
  • Fatigue
  • Pain in the side of the abdomen that does not go away
  • Fever which lasts weeks and is not caused by any infection
  • Unexpected weight loss

If kidney cancer metastasizes the other organs, it may cause symptoms other than the urologic system, such as;

  • Bone pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Coughing up blood

For more information about the metastasis of Kidney Cancer, you can read:
Kidney Cancer Basics: Metastasis


2. What are the Symptoms of Kidney Cancer?

Usually, the symptoms first appear in your urine or lower back. Many symptoms are associated with impaired renal function due to tumor formation in your kidney.

Let’s examine in detail the 6 most common symptoms of kidney cancer.

a. Blood in the urine

Hematuria which can be defined as the presence of blood in urine is one of the first and most common symptoms of kidney cancer. According to the statistics of the Kidney Cancer Association, approximately 40% to 50% of people diagnosed with kidney cancer have this symptom.

Even a small amount of blood in the urine may cause a pink, brown or even red appearance. The amount of blood in the urine may be variable. This means that one day your urine may be red in color and the other day it may be completely normal.

Sometimes the amount of blood in the urine is so small that it can only be measured by the urinalysis.

Although it is the first and most common symptom, hematuria can be seen in some other diseases such as infection of kidney or bladder, kidney stones, injury or cysts.

b. Lower back pain

Back pain is very common in people over the age of 40. Therefore, when a person over the age of 40 has back pain, kidney cancer does not come to mind first. It is generally considered to be due to mechanical diseases such as musculoskeletal or disc herniation.

However, according to a study in kidney cancer patients, approximately 41% of patients diagnosed with Renal Cell Carcinoma (RCC) had the symptom of back pain. Besides, people usually do not experience this symptom until the cancer is advanced.

The characteristic of back pain can range from a dull ache to sharp stab. However, the pain usually occurs in the one side of the flank or below the ribs on the back. Some people may experience it as side pain.

If you have any sudden onset pain that persists for several days and does not go away, consult your doctor. Also, remember to mention any other symptoms you may have when visiting a doctor. Your doctor will then estimate the likely cause and order for appropriate tests.

c. Mass or lump around the abdomen

Any feeling of lump or mass in the abdomen, side and even back can also be a sign of kidney cancer. This sensation of a mass can be felt under the skin as a hard, thickening or bulging bump.

According to studies, approximately 45% of kidney cancer patients have this sign.

However, it is almost impossible to feel the kidney tumor outside the skin in the early stages. Because the kidneys are located in a deep position in the abdomen. Therefore, this sign usually does not appear until the tumor grows and reaches the late stages.

For more information about the staging of Kidney Cancer, you can read:
Kidney Cancer Basics: Stages


However, if a feeling of lump occurs, your doctor will order an ultrasound or CT scan tests for diagnosis. Diagnosis can be confirmed by biopsy, if necessary, after reaching a clearer idea of what this lump may be.

Keep in mind that not every lump has cancer. If you have this type of symptom, consult your doctor as soon as possible.

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d. Fatigue

Fatigue is one of the most common symptoms of any cancer. This extremely general symptom also occurs in approximately 70% to 100% of patients receiving cancer treatment.

Although it is very common, many cancer patients describe fatigue as the most difficult symptom to cope with.

Fatigue which caused by cancer is very different from feeling tired because of sleep deprivation. Fatigue of cancer causes an inability to perform daily activities, and even as time goes on, the intensity of it may increase.

If you are constantly tired and cannot feel better with rest, make an appointment with your doctor immediately.

e. Anemia

Approximately 21% of kidney cancer patients have a low number of red blood cells. This can also be expressed as anemia.

Normally, one of the functions of the kidneys is stimulating the production of red blood cells from the bone marrow with secreting the erythropoietin hormone.

However, when kidney cancer occurs, the normal function of the kidney is impaired.

Thus, erythropoietin production decreases to low levels or stops completely. As a result, anemia may develop.

Anemia can also increase the feeling of fatigue and may cause shortness of breath, dizziness or paleness.

f. Unexpected weight loss

Involuntary weight loss was found in approximately 28% of kidney cancer patients. This usually occurs very quickly due to the spread of the tumor to other organs.

You may suddenly lose your will to eat. This may also contribute to weight loss.

If you have recently lost a lot of weight involuntarily or do not have the appetite, you should consult your doctor as soon as possible.

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3. How Do I Know If I Have Kidney Cancer?

You may have symptoms of kidney cancer, such as unexpected weight loss, blood in the urine, or back pain. Or your doctor may have found a lump in your abdomen during your physical examination or any sign that might suggest the kidney cancer.

For more information about the staging of Kidney Cancer, you can read:
Kidney Cancer Basics: Diagnosis


In such a case, your doctor will order detailed tests after receiving detailed information about your medical history, past illness or treatments, your health habits, and lifestyle and family history.

The tests your doctor will likely request are as follows;

a. Urine tests

Tests that give a detailed result of the presence of blood or any problems in your urine.

b. Intravenous Pyelogram

After giving a dye that will travel in your urinary tract, your kidneys will be x-rayed. This can display any tumors or problems in your kidneys.

c. Ultrasound

This test, which works with sound waves, provides images of your kidneys. In this way, a differential diagnosis of fluid-filled or solid tumor located in the kidney can be made.

d. Computed Tomography (CT) scan

It is a scan that provides the visualization of internal organs in 3 dimensions by combining the images obtained by X-rays on the computer. An injection of dye may also be required during this test. CT has recently become the first-line diagnostic tool for kidney cancer.

e. Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scan

It is a test that creates images of internal organs result from the creation of a magnetic field with strong magnets. In this way, detailed images of soft tissues in your body are obtained. In MRI, injection of a contrast agent may also be required.

For more information about the imaging tests of Kidney Cancer, you can read:
Imaging of the Kidney Cancer


f. Renal Arteriogram

This test is used to evaluate the blood flow to your kidneys. At the same time, the blood flow of the tumor can be evaluated and surgical preparation is provided.

Although it is not frequently ordered, it can help in the diagnosis of small tumors.

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4. Risk Factors and Prevention

Some individuals have a higher risk of developing kidney cancer than others.

These risk factors are;

  • age
  • smoking
  • obesity
  • high blood pressure
  • treatment for kidney failure
  • certain genetic or hereditary factors
  • male gender

In order to prevent the development of kidney cancer, certain steps can be taken such as maintaining a healthy diet, quitting smoking, regulating blood pressure, losing weight or avoiding exposure to harmful carcinogenic substances.

If you have a family history of kidney cancer, share it with your doctor. In this way, your risk factors for developing kidney cancer can be determined more clearly.

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