Kidney or renal cancer may not cause symptoms in the early stages. As the disease progresses, the most common symptoms include blood in the urine and a lump or mass in the kidney area.

Kidney cancer does not cause specific symptoms. This means that the symptoms may be due to various conditions or diseases that affect the kidneys, not just cancer.

However, while the cause may not be kidney cancer, a person may still require treatment.

This article reviews the symptoms relating to kidney cancer, when to speak with a doctor, and more.

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According to the Urology Care Foundation, most kidney masses do not cause symptoms in their early stages. People may develop symptoms as the kidney mass grows and the cancer progresses.

Cancer Research UK states that most people who receive a diagnosis of kidney cancer do not have symptoms. However, if symptoms do appear, they may experience blood in the urine and a lump or mass in the kidney area.

The early stages of kidney cancer may not cause symptoms or signs. However, symptoms can appear as the cancer develops.

The most common symptom is blood in the urine. While this can come and go, sometimes it is not possible to see the blood without a urine test.

A person may also notice a lump or mass in the kidney area.

Other more vague, or nonspecific, symptoms of kidney cancer include:

  • weight loss
  • a high temperature that does not break and heavy sweating
  • back pain on one side, below the ribs
  • fatigue
  • appetite loss
  • malaise, or a general feeling of poor health
  • anemia, or a low red blood cell count
  • high blood pressure

The above symptoms are not specific to kidney cancer. It is more likely that a person experiencing one or more of these symptoms has another benign condition that may require treatment. For example, a high fever and heavy sweating can occur due to an infection.

Kidney cancer is unlikely to cause symptoms in its earliest stages. Symptoms of kidney cancer can develop as the tumor begins to grow larger and affects the nearby organs.

Q:

At which stage are symptoms of kidney cancer most likely to appear?

Anonymous

A:

Doctors can find many early stage kidney cancers incidentally as a person is receiving care for a separate issue. As the cancer grows, it may be big enough to cause noticeable symptoms, and the larger it gets and the more it spreads to surrounding organs, the more symptoms it is likely to cause. Once the tumor reaches other organs, the symptoms will depend on where it spreads. Metastases to the lung could cause shortness of breath, for example, while metastases to the bones could cause bone pain, weakness, nausea, and confusion. While the exact symptoms depend on the specific tumor location and size, generally, the higher the stage and grade of the tumor, the increased likelihood of symptoms. However, some people never experience symptoms before receiving a diagnosis. If people have concerns about new, persistent symptoms that they think could be related to kidney cancer, they can speak with their healthcare team.

Teresa Hagan Thomas PHD, BA, RNAnswers represent the opinions of our medical experts. All content is strictly informational and should not be considered medical advice.

The American Cancer Society (ACS) and other organizations use what is known as the TNM staging system:

  • T, or tumor: Looks at the size of the tumor and whether it has grown into the nearby areas.
  • N, or nodes: Looks at whether the cancer has spread to the nearby lymph nodes.
  • M, or metastasis: Refers to how far the cancer has spread to other parts of the body.

The following table outlines the stages of kidney cancer:

StageStage groupingDescription
1T1, N0, M0Stage 1 kidney involves a tumor that is 7 centimeters (cm) or smaller.
It does not involve any lymph nodes and has not metastasized.
2T2, N0, M0Stage 2 kidney cancer involves a tumor that is larger than 7 cm.
It does not involve any lymph nodes and has not metastasized.
3T3, N0, M0

or

T1–3, N1, M0
T3, N0, M0 means that the tumor is growing into a major vein or into the tissues that surround the kidney.
It is not growing into the adrenal gland or past the Gerota’s fascia.
It has also not spread to the lymph nodes or other distant organs.

T1–3, N1, and M0 mean that the tumor is any size and might be present outside the kidney.
It has not spread beyond the Gerota’s fascia, the fibrous tissue surrounding the kidney, but it has spread to the nearby lymph nodes.
It has not spread to distant lymph nodes or organs.
4T4, any N, M0

or

Any T, any N, M1
T4, any N, M0 means that the tumor has spread beyond the Gerota’s fascia and may affect the adrenal gland.
It might have spread to the nearby lymph nodes but not distant lymph nodes or organs.

Any T, any N, or M1 means that the tumor can be any size and has spread beyond the kidney.
It may or may not have reached the nearby lymph nodes but has spread to distant lymph nodes or other organs.

A person should speak with a doctor if they experience blood in their urine or a lump or mass in the kidney area.

If people are experiencing persistent nonspecific symptoms, such as fever with no known cause, they should also speak with a doctor.

A doctor may discover kidney cancer following the report of symptoms or during a routine scan to diagnose other conditions.

To diagnose kidney cancer, a doctor may order the following tests:

  • blood tests
  • urine testing
  • CT scan
  • MRI scan
  • ultrasound
  • angiography, an X-ray that looks at the blood vessels
  • chest X-rays to find out if the cancer has spread to the lungs
  • bone scans to find out if the cancer has spread to the bones
  • kidney biopsy

According to the ACS, the 5-year relative survival rate for kidney cancer is as follows:

Stage5-year relative survival rate
Localized, which means that it has not spread93%
Regional, which means that it has spread to the nearby tissues or lymph nodes71%
Distant, which means that it has spread to the distant parts of the body14%

A relative survival rate helps indicate how long a person with a particular condition will live after receiving a diagnosis in comparison with those without the condition.

For example, if the 5-year relative survival rate is 70%, a person with the condition is 70% as likely to live for 5 years as someone without the condition.

However, it is important to remember that these figures are estimates. A person can consult a healthcare professional about how their condition will affect them.

A person’s survival rate will depend on several factors, including:

  • age
  • response to treatment
  • overall health
  • tumor size
  • whether the cancer has spread

The following sections provide answers to frequently asked questions about kidney cancer.

How fast does kidney cancer spread?

Depending on the type of kidney cancer, it can spread quickly. For example, clear cell renal carcinoma is the most common and aggressive, or fast-growing, type of kidney cancer.

According to a 2015 study, the growth rate seems to increase in younger people. In their study of 46 people with renal cancer, the average growth rate per year was 2.13 centimeters (cm).

Learn more about how quickly kidney cancer can spread.

What are the symptoms of kidney cancer in females?

The symptoms of kidney cancer do not change regardless of a person’s sex. However, the United Kingdom’s National Health Service (NHS) notes that the veins in the testicles can swell.

What are the symptoms of a benign kidney tumor?

Papillary renal adenoma is the most common type of noncancerous kidney tumor and typically causes no symptoms.

Other types of benign kidney masses, such as cysts, are also unlikely to cause symptoms. However, in some cases, a person may experience pain, infection, or bleeding.

Kidney cancer may not show signs at an early stage. However, as the cancer progresses, it can cause symptoms that include blood in the urine, a lump or mass developing in the kidney area, and pain in the back.

The symptoms of kidney cancer are not specific, meaning a person may have another condition that is causing them.

Individuals should speak with a doctor if they suspect they may have kidney cancer or have any signs or symptoms that their kidneys are not functioning properly.