What is kidney cancer?

This very common cancer is found in the kidney. The majority of kidney cancers are found incidentally, with no symptoms, during imaging of the kidney for other reasons such as a car accident.

More information about kidney cancer (American Cancer Society)

What kidney cancer is not

Kidney cancer should not be confused with kidney disease, kidney failure, or other diseases that require dialysis or transplant. It is also different than other genitourinary cancers such as bladder, prostate, testicular, adrenal, penile, or urethral because these cancers can have different symptoms, outlooks, and treatments.

Common types of kidney cancer

Renal cell carcinoma is the most common form of kidney cancer that usually grows as a single tumor within a kidney. There are several subtypes of renal cell carcinoma.

Kidneys can also develop tumors called oncocytomas and angiomyolipomas that are not cancerous.


It’s possible that you could have one or more of the following tests (but not all of these may apply to your condition):

  • CT scan (computed tomography scan) - A CT scan is a series of X-ray pictures of the kidney put together by a computer to give doctors a detailed picture.
  • MRI scan (magnetic resonance imaging) - An MRI test uses magnetic fields and radio waves to capture detailed images of your kidney. During the procedure you will lie flat on a padded platform, which then slides into the center of a tube shaped MRI machine. You will not feel the magnetic fields or radio waves around you, but you will hear a loud thumping sound. You will be asked to lie very still during the procedure, The MRI technicians will work with you to help this procedure be as comfortable as possible.
  • Image-guided percutaneous biopsy - This is a type of needle biopsy of your kidney that uses ultrasound, CT or MRI images for guidance.


Depending on your unique set of conditions, your treatment could include one or more of the following treatments (but not all of these may apply to your condition):

  • Active surveillance - Some forms of kidney cancer are very slow-growing over the course of many years and do not cause symptoms. In certain cases you and your provider may opt for active surveillance, which means careful long-term monitoring without any further invasive treatments. 
  • Nephrectomy or partial nephrectomy - Nephrectomy is the partial or total removal of the kidneys.
  • Percutaneous ablation – Heat (Radiofrequency) or cold (Cryotherapy) delivered with a needle to kill the tumor.

Your full team of care providers will work closely together to review your diagnostic tests, identify the best course of treatment particular to you, and help you understand your diagnosis and what to expect with any treatment you have.