If your doctor suspects you or a loved one may have kidney cancer, you probably have lots of questions about what this might mean and what to do about it. Our urology specialists and doctors provide advanced diagnostic and treatment options for people with kidney disease, including kidney cancer.

What is kidney cancer?

Kidney cancer occurs when cells within the kidney grow abnormally. It is also known as renal cancer. Types of kidney cancer include:

  • renal cell carcinoma (RCC) – which makes up about 90% of all kidney cancer cases. RCC starts in cells that line part of the kidney’s filtration system. It usually only affects one kidney but can occasionally develop in both kidneys.
  • urothelial carcinoma (also known as transitional cell carcinoma) – this can begin in the ureters (thin tubes that connect the kidneys to the bladder) or at the junction between the kidney and a ureter. It is usually treated like bladder cancer.
  • Wilms tumour – this rare type of tumour can affect younger children.

It is possible for cancer of the kidney to spread into surrounding tissues, such as lymph nodes, veins, adrenal glands, and the liver. It can also spread to other areas, such as the bones or lungs.

Causes of kidney cancer

Experts do not fully understand what causes kidney cancer. However, there are factors that can increase your risk of developing the condition. These include:

  • Smoking – the chemicals in cigarettes can cause kidney cancer and people who smoke are about twice as likely to develop kidney cancer than non-smokers.
  • Obesity – excess body fat can cause hormonal changes that may lead to kidney cancer.
  • Family history – you may be at higher risk if a close family member has had kidney cancer.
  • Gender – about twice as many men than women develop kidney cancer.
  • Inherited conditions – some rare genetic diseases can increase your risk.
  • Long-term exposure to some toxic chemicals, such as asbestos or cadmium.
  • Advanced kidney disease.
  • High blood pressure.

It’s important to note that while these factors can contribute to kidney cancer risk, anyone can develop it. Also, having these risk factors does not necessarily mean you will get kidney cancer. Talk to your GP about your risk and what you can do to manage it.

Kidney cancer symptoms

Kidney cancer often does not cause any symptoms and some people are diagnosed with it when they seek treatment for another condition.

Symptoms of kidney cancer can include:

  • blood in the urine or a change in urine colour (eg dark, rusty or brown-coloured urine)
  • more frequent urination
  • unexplained aches or pains in the side or lower back
  • a lump in the stomach
  • constant tiredness
  • rapid, unexplained weight loss
  • fever (not related to a cold or flu).

These symptoms can result from other illnesses, so they don’t necessarily mean you have kidney cancer. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, book an appointment with your GP.​​​​​

Kidney cancer diagnosis and testing

If your doctor suspects you may have kidney cancer, they will ask some questions about your symptoms. They will also do some tests to help with the diagnosis. Tests for kidney cancer include:

  • urine tests – to check for blood, infection or cancer cells in your urine.
  • blood tests – to assess your general health and any signs that could suggest kidney problems.
  • ultrasound – an ultrasound scan allows doctors see your kidneys and check for signs of cancer.
  • other imaging tests – you may need other scans (such as an MRI, CT, bone scan or PET scan) to help with diagnosis and treatment planning.
  • biopsy – this involves inserting a fine needle through the skin to remove a small sample of tissue to be tested for cancer cells in a lab.

Kidney cancer treatment options

Treatment for kidney cancer will depend on various things, including the cancer stage and aggressiveness, your overall health, and your personal preferences. Treatment for kidney cancer may include:

Active surveillance

Active surveillance of kidney cancer involves monitoring the condition with regular scans. Your doctor may recommend this option if you have small tumours that are not aggressive or likely to grow.


Surgical removal of the affected kidney (radical nephrectomy) is the most common type of surgery for kidney cancer. Your specialist or doctor might recommend surgery to remove part of the kidney (partial nephrectomy) if you have:

  • a small tumour in one kidney
  • tumours in both kidneys
  • only one working kidney.
Radiofrequency ablation

This involves using high energy radio waves to heat the tumour and destroy cancer cells.

Stereotactic body radiation therapy (SBRT)

You might be advised to have this specialised type of radiation therapy if surgery is not possible. It involves targeting a primary kidney cancer with a focused dose of radiation, usually over one to three days.


Immunotherapy works by tapping into your body's immune system to help fight the cancer.

Targeted therapies

Specialists sometimes recommend these drugs in cases of advanced or fast-growing kidney cancer. They can be given as tablets or through a drip.


Traditional radiotherapy might be recommended in cases of advanced kidney cancer to shrink tumours and ease symptoms.​​​​​​

Kidney cancer treatment Northern Beaches Hospital

Receiving a kidney cancer diagnosis can understandably be upsetting, but expert diagnosis and care can enhance your chances of a positive outcome. If you have any concerns about your kidney health, see your GP without delay.

At Northern Beaches Hospital, our team of kidney cancer specialists provide expert diagnosis and treatment. You can use our specialist and doctor search to find a kidney cancer specialist or doctor in Northern Beaches and ask your GP for a referral.

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