What are the Different Types of Renal Cancer?

Caitlin Kenney
Caitlin Kenney
The kidneys and renal veins and arteries.
The kidneys and renal veins and arteries.

Renal cancer is a disease in which the cells of the kidney exhibit uncontrolled and abnormal growth. The kidney is a paired organ located in the back of the abdomen that is responsible for production of urine, regulating blood pressure and volume, regulating water concentration in the body, filtration of blood, and reabsorption of salts, sugars, and water into the bloodstream. There are several types of renal cancer, including renal cell carcinoma (RCC), transitional cell carcinoma, Wilms’ tumor, and renal sarcoma. Renal cell carcinoma is by far the most commonly diagnosed kidney cancer.

Transitional cell carcinoma, a type of renal cancer, is thought to be caused by cigarette smoking.
Transitional cell carcinoma, a type of renal cancer, is thought to be caused by cigarette smoking.

Renal cell carcinoma, also called hypernephroma, affects the cells lining small tube-like structures called proximal convoluted tubules, located in the nephrons of the kidney. The nephron is the functional unit of the kidney. This type of renal cancer often exhibits no symptoms until it reaches more advanced stages, when it may begin to display hematuria, or blood in the urine, back pain, an abdominal mass, weight loss, fever, or high blood pressure. If the tumor is localized in the kidney and the patient can withstand surgery, doctors prefer to remove the cancer surgically in a procedure known as a nephrectomy. This renal cancer is very difficult to control once it has metastasized, or spread to other tissues, but may be treated with interleukin-2 (IL-2) drugs or kinase inhibitor drugs.

An example of a healthy kidney and one with cancer.
An example of a healthy kidney and one with cancer.

Transitional cell carcinoma is a renal cancer though to be caused by cigarette smoking that originates in the renal pelvis, where the kidney articulates with the ureter. The ureter is the tube that transports urine from the kidney to the bladder. Like other cancers, transitional cell carcinoma has a better prognosis the earlier it is diagnosed. A prognosis is the doctor’s prediction of the patient’s chances for recovery. If the tumor is localized, doctors will likely perform a nephrectomy, often removing the affected kidney, the ureter, and part of the bladder.

An ultrasound is used for a renal doppler.
An ultrasound is used for a renal doppler.

A Wilms’ tumor, also called nephroblastoma, is a renal cancer that affects young children, usually between the ages of two and five. These tumors are fairly rare and probably result from a genetic mutation in immature kidney cells. They often present no symptoms until they have grown large, when they may begin to present symptoms of a palpable mass in the abdomen, blood in urine, weight loss, fever, stomach pain, or high blood pressure. This disease often has a good prognosis and may be treated with surgery, chemotherapy, or radiation.

A patient's kidney cancer diagnosis is improved with early diagnosis.
A patient's kidney cancer diagnosis is improved with early diagnosis.

A renal sarcoma is a rare renal cancer that originates the connective tissue of the kidney. This renal tumor may present symptoms of hematuria, or blood in the urine, a palpable lump in the abdomen, and lower back pain. If the renal tumor is localized and the patient can withstand surgery, doctors will likely recommend nephrectomy. Chemotherapy and radiation may also be used.

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    • The kidneys and renal veins and arteries.
      The kidneys and renal veins and arteries.
    • Transitional cell carcinoma, a type of renal cancer, is thought to be caused by cigarette smoking.
      Transitional cell carcinoma, a type of renal cancer, is thought to be caused by cigarette smoking.
    • An example of a healthy kidney and one with cancer.
      An example of a healthy kidney and one with cancer.
    • An ultrasound is used for a renal doppler.
      An ultrasound is used for a renal doppler.
    • A patient's kidney cancer diagnosis is improved with early diagnosis.
      A patient's kidney cancer diagnosis is improved with early diagnosis.