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Symptoms & Signs of Renal Cell Cancer

Many kidney cancers go undetected due to the lack of symptoms and are incidentally detected during the medical evaluation of an unrelated problem. Kidney cancers can cause symptoms by compressing, stretching or invading structures near or within the kidney. Symptoms caused by these processes include pain (in the flank, abdomen or back) and blood in the urine (small amounts may not be visible). If cancer spreads beyond the kidney, symptoms depend upon which organ is involved.

  • Blood in the urine.
  • A lump in the abdomen
  • A pain in the side or back that doesn’t go away.
  • Loss of appetite.
  • Weight loss for no known reason.
  • Fatigue and anemia.

Sometimes a renal cell cancer causes associated clinical or laboratory abnormalities called para-neoplastic syndromes. These syndromes are observed in approximately 30% of patients with kidney cancer and can occur in any stage. Clinical symptoms include weight loss, loss of appetite, fever, sweats and high blood pressure.

Causes of Kidney Cancer

Renal cell cancer begins when healthy cells acquire a genetic change (mutation) that causes them to turn into abnormal cells. Most renal cell cancers develop sporadically, which means for no known reason.

Risk Factors for Kidney Cancer

A risk factor is anything that increases a person’s chance of developing cancer. Risk factors can influence the development of cancer, but most do not directly cause cancer. Many individuals with risk factors will never develop cancer and others with no known risk factors will. Some cancers however are more likely to develop in individuals with certain risk factors that increase an individual’s chance of developing cancer. The following factors may raise a person’s risk for developing renal cancer.1, 2, 3

  • Smoking.
  • Overuse of certain pain medications for a long time.
  • Obesity
  • High blood pressure.
  • A family history of renal cell cancer.
  • Hereditary conditions:
    • Von Hippel-Lindau disease.

Next: Diagnosis & Tests for Renal Cell Cancer



1 American Cancer Society. What is kidney cancer? Available from: Accessed July 2018.

2 Sene AP, Hunt L, McMahon RF, et al.: Renal carcinoma in patients undergoing nephrectomy: analysis of survival and prognostic factors. Br J Urol 70 (2): 125-34, 1992.

3 Golimbu M, Joshi P, Sperber A, et al.: Renal cell carcinoma: survival and prognostic factors. Urology 27 (4): 291-301, 1986. In: Edge SB, Byrd DR, Compton CC, et al., eds.: AJCC Cancer Staging Manual. 7th ed. New York, NY: Springer, 2010, pp 479-89.

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