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What Is Kidney (Renal) Cancer?

Cancer occurs when cells in the body begin changing and multiplying out of control. These cells can form lumps of tissue called tumors. Cancer that starts in a kidney is called kidney or renal cancer.

Outline of human figure showing urinary tract: kidneys, ureters, bladder, and urethra.

Understanding the Kidneys

The kidneys are bean-shaped organs about the size of a bar of soap. They are found in the low back area, one on each side of the spine. The kidneys help keep the body alive by filtering waste and excess fluid from the blood. The kidneys send this liquid and waste (urine) to the bladder through the ureters. Urine then leaves the body through the urethra.

When Kidney Cancer Forms

Kidney cancer forms when cells in the kidney change and multiply abnormally. The cancer can interfere with the working of the kidneys. Kidney cancer may spread beyond the kidneys to other parts of the body. This spread is called metastasis. The more the cancer spreads, the harder it is to treat.

Treatment Options for Kidney Cancer

You and your health care provider will discuss a treatment plan that's best for your needs. Treatment options may include:

  • Surgery to remove the cancerous kidney and, in some cases, surrounding tissue.

  • Radiation therapy, which uses directed rays of energy to kill cancer cells.

  • Chemotherapy, which uses strong medications to kill cancer cells.

  • Targeted therapies, which use drugs to focus on or prevent molecular and genetic changes in the cell. These drugs keep the cells from growing out of control. 

  • Immunotherapy, which strengthens the body's own immune system to help fight cancer.

Online Medical Reviewer: Arora, Neiha, MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Lash, James P, MD
Last Review Date: 11/2/2011
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