Kidney cancer

Kidney cancer, also called renal cancer, is one of the more common types of cancer in Northern Ireland.  It usually affects adults in their 60s or 70s. See your GP if you have the symptoms below. Although it's unlikely you have cancer, it's important to get your symptoms checked out.

Symptoms of kidney cancer

There are several types of kidney cancer. This page has information on the most common type – renal cell carcinoma.

In many cases, there are no obvious symptoms of kidney cancer at first and it may only be picked up during tests carried out for another reason.

If symptoms do occur, they're often similar to those of less serious conditions, such as urinary tract infections (UTIs) or kidney stones.

Symptoms of kidney cancer can include:

  • blood in your pee – you may notice your pee is darker than normal or reddish in colour
  • a persistent pain in your lower back or side, just below your ribs
  • extreme tiredness (fatigue)
  • loss of appetite and weight loss
  • persistent high blood pressure
  • a high temperature of 38C (100.4F) or above
  • night sweats

Some symptoms may occur once the cancer is more advanced and has spread to other parts of the body, such as the bones or lungs. These symptoms may include:

When to get medical advice

See your GP if you have symptoms of kidney cancer, (see above).

Although it's unlikely you have cancer, it's important to get your symptoms checked out.

Your GP will ask about your symptoms. They may test a sample of your urine to see if it contains blood or an infection.

If necessary, they can refer you to a hospital specialist for further tests to find out what the problem is.

Kidney cancer usually affects adults in their 60s or 70s and is rare in people under 50.

It can often be cured if it's caught early. But a cure probably won't be possible if it's not diagnosed until after it has spread beyond the kidney.

Causes of kidney cancer

The exact cause of kidney cancer is unknown, but some things can increase your chances of developing it:

These include:

Maintaining a healthy weight, a healthy blood pressure and not smoking is the best way to reduce your risk of kidney cancer.

Treatment for kidney cancer

If you are diagnosed with kidney cancer, your hospital consultant will discuss treatment options with you.

The treatment for kidney cancer depends on the size of the cancer and whether it has spread to other parts of the body.

The main treatments are:

  • surgery to remove part or all of the affected kidney – this is the main treatment for most people
  • cryotherapy or radiofrequency ablation – where the cancerous cells are destroyed by freezing or heating
  • biological therapies – medications that help stop the cancer growing or spreading
  • embolisation – a procedure to cut off the blood supply to the cancer
  • radiotherapy – using high-energy radiation to target cancer cells and relieve symptoms

Outlook for kidney cancer

The outlook for kidney cancer largely depends on how big the tumour is and how far it has spread by the time it's diagnosed.

If the cancer is still small and hasn't spread beyond the kidney, surgery can often cure it. Some small, slow growing cancers may not need treatment at first.

A cure isn't usually possible if the cancer has spread, although treatment can sometimes help keep it under control. Some people become ill quickly, but others may live for several years and feel well despite their cancer.

In Northern Ireland, overall, more than 7 in every 10 people live at least a year after diagnosis and more than 5 in 10 people live at least 10 years.

Support groups and charities

Further information, advice and support is available if you need it from these organisations, (see also more useful links below):


The information on this page has been adapted from original content from the NHS website.

For further information see terms and conditions.

This page was published May 2018

This page is due for review April 2020

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