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Kidney cancer - What is it?

The exact cause of kidney cancer is unknown. Certain factors are known to increase the risk of developing this serious disease including smoking, being overweight (high BMI) and high blood pressure. People with kidney failure undergoing machine filtering of their blood (dialysis) for very long periods develop cysts in their kidneys and these have a higher risk of turning cancerous. Rarely faulty genes can be inherited that can lead to the development of kidney cancer.

Does kidney cancer cause any symptoms?

Kidney cancer often causes no symptoms.

Often kidney cancers are picked up on ultrasound scans performed for other reasons. These are occasionally referred to as incidentalomas as they are found incidentally. These means that they are often found at an earlier stage. At later stages the cancer can grow and cause noticeable symptoms. 

  • Blood in the urine (haematuria). This may not be visible to the naked eye and can be picked up by a very simple test. The blood in the urine can come and go. Remember the presence of blood in the urine does not automatically mean you have cancer but it should always be investigated.

  • A lump or mass in the kidney area – if you notice a swelling in the area of the kidney it should be brought to the attention of your doctor. Most kidney cancers are too small to be felt by you or your doctor and a scan is often the only way to be certain.

  • Vague symptoms – tiredness, weight loss, loss of appetite, recurrent high temperatures, pain in the side. As these symptoms are ambiguous they can be caused by a huge variety of conditions, most of the time they will not be due to cancer.