Kidney cancer: causes, symptoms, treatment, prognosis

Kidney cancer involves malignant growths that have formed in the kidney or comes from a tumor located elsewhere in the body (metastasis). There are three types of kidney cancer: adenocarcinoma, transitional cell carcinoma and Wilms tumor. What are the causes and symptoms of kidney cancer. How is the diagnosis made, what are the treatment options and what is the prognosis?

Article content

  • Kidney
  • Kidney cancer
  • Causes of kidney cancer
  • Symptoms of kidney cancer
  • Kidney cancer diagnosis
  • Kidney cancer treatment
  • Kidney cancer prognosis
  • Wilms tumor
  • Wubbo Ockels



The kidney regulates the secretion of metabolic products from the blood. Almost everyone has two kidneys, which are located at the back of the abdomen, against the muscles of the back, behind the intestines and the other organs in the abdomen. The adrenal glands are much smaller than the kidneys and are located above them. In adults, the kidney is approximately ten centimeters long. Inside the kidney are the renal artery, which carries blood to the kidney, and the renal vein, which carries blood from the kidney. Inside is the renal pelvis, which drains urine via the ureter to the bladder.

Kidney cancer

Kidney cancer usually involves a tumor that originates in the tissue of the kidney itself. It almost never happens that a tumor spreads from another part of the body to the kidneys.

Three main types of kidney cancer:

  1. Adenocarcinoma: This type is the most common and develops from the cells that make up most of the kidneys.
  2. Transitional cell carcinoma: this form is rare and arises from the cells lining the urinary tract in the kidney, ureters and bladder.
  3. Wilms tumor: is usually present at birth, or forms within the first five years of life.


Causes of kidney cancer

Transitional cell carcinoma occurs more frequently in people who smoke, because tobacco smoke contains carcinogens. It also occurs more often in people who have been exposed, sometimes years earlier, to other carcinogenic substances, such as chemical dyes.
The cause of Wilms tumor is unknown, but the disease sometimes runs in families. See also under the heading Wilms tumor.

Symptoms of kidney cancer

There are often no symptoms at first.
But if they do develop, they could be:

  • Pain when urinating;
  • Frequent urination;
  • Blood in the pee;
  • Backache;
  • Pain in the side
  • Loss of weight

If there is blood in the urine or urine with a pink or smoky color, call your doctor immediately!

Kidney cancer diagnosis

If a doctor suspects that it is kidney cancer, the kidneys can be visualized using an ultrasound scan, a CT scan or intravenous urography.

Kidney cancer treatment

  • If a kidney is damaged, it can be removed through surgery. The remaining kidney can then take over the task.
  • If the cancer has spread to other areas then chemotherapy may be necessary. Sometimes progesterone (a natural hormone) and other anticancer drugs are used.


Kidney cancer prognosis

If someone has had their kidney tumor removed, approximately seven out of ten people will live longer than five years. Even if the tumor was large. If the cancer has spread to other parts of the body before it was diagnosed, there is less chance of a cure. Radiation therapy can slow the spread and reduce pain.

Wilms tumor

  • The German surgeon Max Wilms first described the disease in 1899. It is a rare form of cancer of the kidneys , it is also called nephroblastoma. It usually occurs between birth and age five. It occurs in fewer than eight in a hundred thousand children. Almost always one kidney is affected, but sometimes both kidneys.
  • The cause is unknown, but the tumor is more common in children with a number of congenital genetic abnormalities: Beckwith-Wiedeman syndrome and other syndromes in which the child is already born overweight. Wilms tumor is also associated with WAGR syndrome.
  • Symptoms of Wilms tumor: swelling in the abdomen, pain or an unpleasant feeling in the abdomen, high blood pressure, sometimes blood in the urine. If you notice these symptoms, see a doctor immediately.
  • Treatment: the affected kidney is removed by surgery, usually after prior treatment with chemotherapy to shrink the tumor. The healthy kidney that remains can survive on its own. Chemotherapy will sometimes be necessary to destroy any remaining cancer cells. It is rare, but if both kidneys have to be removed, dialysis is required and, at a later stage, a kidney transplant. The treatment gives good results.


Wubbo Ockels

On May 18, 2014, former astronaut Wubbo Ockels died of kidney cancer that had spread to the lining of the lungs. Wubbo was the first Dutch person to make a week-long space flight in 1985 with the space shuttle Challenger. In 2008, he was coincidentally diagnosed with an advanced kidney tumor. The tumor was removed, but kidney cancer was discovered again in 2013.

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