Metastatic renal cell carcinoma (RCC) is a type of kidney cancer that has spread to other body parts. Depending on where it spreads, it can cause shortness of breath, bone pain, or jaundice.

RCC is the most common form of kidney cancer.

It develops when certain cells of the kidneys grow and develop abnormally. As these cells develop, they can form kidney tumors.

If the cancer keeps growing, cancer cells can travel to other body parts, eventually forming tumors in different organs. This is called metastatic RCC.

This article discusses how metastatic RCC can affect the body, including its symptoms when it spreads beyond the kidney. It also examines a person’s outlook and how healthcare professionals can treat the condition.

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According to the American Cancer Society, metastatic RCC can manifest in a few ways. Some possible symptoms of metastatic RCC include:

RCC can spread to many parts of the body.

Researchers in a 2021 analysis examined the National Cancer Institute’s Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results Program (SEER) database to determine which parts of the body RCC most often affects.

Out of 10,410 people, metastatic RCC spread to the:

  • lungs in 5,713 people
  • bones in 3,920 people
  • liver in 2,034 people
  • brain in 1,079 people


If RCC has spread to the lungs, it can cause:


To stay healthy, bone is constantly forming and breaking down. When RCC spreads to the bones, it disrupts this process, and the cancer cells can either:

  • invade the bone, causing too many bone cells to form and resulting in the bone becoming very dense
  • break down the bone, causing the bones to weaken

When cancer has spread to the bone, it can cause bone pain. The pain can be constant or can come and go. It is often worse at night. The pain may be a dull ache or a sharp pain. Swelling and fractures can also occur.

When cancer has spread to the bone, it can cause hypercalcemia and spinal cord compression.

Hypercalcemia is when there is too much calcium in the blood. It can cause the following symptoms:

Spinal cord compression refers to pressure on the nerves in the spinal cord. If this develops, a person will experience:


A person may not experience any symptoms at first. However, as the cancer develops, a person may experience:


If RCC has spread to the brain, the most common symptom is headache. Other symptoms include:

  • seizures
  • vomiting
  • nausea
  • confusion
  • problems with memory
  • changes in personality or behavior
  • difficulty with coordination and balance
  • loss of bladder or bowel control
  • weakness or numbness affecting the face, arms, or legs
  • problems with speech
  • problems with swallowing

According to the National Cancer Institute, doctors may recommend the following conventional therapies for metastatic RCC:

  • Immunotherapy: Immunotherapy uses special chemicals to help a person’s immune system kill cancer cells. The body may naturally produce these chemicals, or specialists can make them in a laboratory.
  • Targeted therapy: This uses chemicals to attack specific cancer cells. In particular, people with metastatic RCC can benefit from antiangiogenic targeted therapy. Antiangiogenic drugs stop blood vessels from forming inside tumors.
  • Surgery: Doctors may want to perform a nephrectomy. This is the surgical removal of part or all of the kidney. Doctors may recommend this procedure to reduce the growth of RCC.
  • Palliative radiation therapy: Radiation therapy uses radiation to kill tumors. When doctors recommend palliative radiation therapy, they intend to reduce symptoms and improve quality of life. It is not to cure the cancer.

Some people with metastatic RCC may want to pursue complementary therapies.

The National Cancer Institute details some of them:

  • Mind-body therapies: These therapies may use a combination of movement, breathing, and focus to make someone more relaxed in body and mind. Examples include yoga, tai chi, and meditation.
  • Natural product therapies: These therapies use substances found in nature. The aim is to make the body as strong and healthy as possible. Examples include dietary supplementation, some herbs and spices, and special diets.
  • Body-based therapies: These therapies work when a professional manipulates parts of the body. Examples include massage therapy, reflexology, and chiropractic therapy.
  • Energy-based therapies: These therapies operate under the premise that health conditions can benefit from good flows of vital energy. Although there is no scientific evidence for these flows, some people may wish to try some energy-based therapies. These include therapeutic touch and Reiki.

However, complementary therapies are not a substitute for conventional cancer care. Additionally, not all complementary therapies are safe for everyone. For example, some supplements can negatively interact with medications.

A person with metastatic RCC can discuss these therapies with their doctor.

A person with RCC may benefit from the emotional and practical support of friends, relatives, and loved ones.

They might also find support from the American Cancer Society, which offers:

Metastatic RCC is a serious condition.

When the cancer has spread to organs far from the kidneys, the 5-year relative survival rate is 15%. This means a person is 15% as likely to live for another 5 years compared with someone without metastatic RCC.

Metastatic RCC is a type of kidney cancer that has spread to other organs. The most common organ that RCC usually spreads to appears to be the lungs. It can also spread to the bones, liver, and brain.

RCC can cause various symptoms, such as unexplained weight loss, blood in the urine, and anemia. If the cancer spreads, it can cause different symptoms depending on the affected organ.

For example, lung metastasis can cause chest discomfort and shortness of breath. Bone metastasis can cause bone pain and result in fractures.

Immunotherapy and targeted therapy are important pillars of metastatic RCC treatment. Surgery and palliative radiation therapy may also be useful. Because the survival rate for metastatic RCC is low, treatment may focus on maintaining quality of life than curing the cancer.