Signs and Symptoms of Kidney Cancer

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We don’t seem to hear as much about kidney cancer as we do some other cancers, such as breast cancer or prostate cancer. But in 2016, there were approximately 62,700 people in the United States diagnosed with kidney cancer and about 14,240 died from the disease. The good news is that the earlier it’s diagnosed, the better the survival rate. So, it’s important to know kidney cancer symptoms and signs of kidney cancer.

Possible Signs of Kidney Cancer

It’s not always easy to detect kidney cancer in its early stages. Usually, symptoms only begin once the tumor starts to press on the kidney tissues or surrounding tissues. Here are the most common signs and symptoms of kidney cancer:

  • Anemia

  • Blood in your urine

  • Decrease in appetite

  • Feeling of pressure on one side of your lower back

  • Fever not associated with an infection or virus

  • Lump or mass on your side or lower back

  • Unexplained fatigue

  • Unexplained lower back pain on one side, not due to injury

  • Unintentional weight loss

These signs and symptoms can be vague or may be related to another problem. For example, an infection can cause bloody urine and fatigue is common to a lot of health issues. But if you have these symptoms, it’s important to speak with your healthcare provider so you can get the right diagnosis. If you do have kidney cancer, the earlier it’s detected, the better the chance of successful treatment. Your doctor may refer you to a urologist—a specialist of the genitourinary tract, which includes your kidneys.

Testing for Kidney Cancer

After your doctor rules out other possible causes for your symptoms, you may need more tests to either rule out or diagnose kidney cancer. At this point, you probably already had a urine test, but you may need to supply another sample for further testing. Urine tests check for microscopic blood cells and cancer cells that may be in the urine. Invasive tests like needle biopsies are performed less often because imaging studies are so dependably informative. Other tests may include:

  • Blood tests measure red blood cell levels, white blood cell levels, and other elements that show how well your kidneys and other organs are working. This can reveal problems including anemia, infection, and kidney cancer.

  • CT (computed tomography) scans are detailed X-rays that show the soft tissues in your body, such as your kidneys. A CT scan could show tumors in the kidney, their location, and their size and shape.

  • MRIs (magnetic resonance images) are similar to CT scans, but they use magnetic energy instead of radiation. Doctors use these less often than CT scans in diagnosing kidney cancer.

  • Ultrasounds make pictures of the inside of your body using sound waves. They help your doctor determine if a mass is solid or fluid-filled. This helps with diagnosis.

If you are diagnosed with kidney cancer and your doctor suspects that the cancer has spread, you may need further testing. This could include lung X-rays, bone scans, or PET (positron emission tomography) scans, for example.
It is important to speak with your doctor if you believe you have any of the signs or symptoms of kidney cancer. The sooner you receive a diagnosis, the sooner you can begin treatment for the condition.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2021 Mar 22
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.

  1. Cancer Stat Facts: Kidney and Renal Pelvis Cancer. National Cancer Institute.

  2. How Is Kidney Cancer Diagnosed? American Cancer Society.

  3. Kidney Cancer. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research.

  4. Kidney Cancer: Introduction. American Society of Clinical Oncology.

  5. Signs and Symptoms of Kidney Cancer. American Cancer Society.