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About Advanced Kidney Cancer

When a person has cancer, the body’s cells start to grow at abnormal rates with irregular shapes. Sometimes the cells form a mass called a tumor.

As cancer cells grow, some may spread to nearby organs or to lymph nodes, forming what is known as a locally advanced tumor. Cancer cells can also enter the bloodstream and spread to more distant organs, which is called metastasis.

When a tumor starts from kidney cells, it’s called kidney cancer. Renal cell carcinoma (RCC) is the most common type of kidney cancer and the 12th most common cancer in the world—with men twice as likely to be diagnosed than women. Nine in 10 people who have kidney cancer have RCC.

Advanced RCC is when kidney cancer has spread or cannot be removed by surgery.

It’s important to talk to your healthcare provider about your options and work together to make a treatment plan.

The following may affect your risk for RCC:

  • Smoking
  • Misusing certain pain medicines, including over-the-counter pain medicines, for a long time
  • Being overweight
  • Having high blood pressure
  • Having a family history of renal cell cancer
  • Having certain genetic conditions

Talk with your doctor if you think you may be at risk.

Signs and symptoms may appear as the tumor grows, while some may not appear in the early stages.

Some examples include:

  • Blood in the urine
  • A lump in the abdomen
  • A pain in the side that doesn't go away
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss for no known reason
  • Anemia

These signs and symptoms may also appear in later stages where the tumor has spread.
This is also known as metastasis.

These tests may be used to diagnose RCC:

  • Physical exam and health history: An exam of the body to check general signs of health and signs of disease, such as lumps or any unusual signs. A history of health habits and past illnesses and treatments will also be taken
  • Ultrasound exam: High-energy sound waves (ultrasound) are bounced off internal tissues or organs and make echoes. The echoes form a picture of body tissues called a sonogram
  • Blood chemistry studies: A blood sample is checked to measure the amounts of certain substances released into the blood by organs and tissues in the body. A higher or lower than normal amount of a substance can be a sign of disease
  • Urinalysis: A test to check the color of urine and its contents, such as sugar, protein, red blood cells, and white blood cells
  • CT scan (CAT scan): A series of detailed pictures of areas inside the body, such as the abdomen and pelvis, taken from different angles. The pictures are made by a computer linked to an x-ray machine. A dye may be injected into a vein or swallowed to help create a clearer picture of the organs or tissues
  • MRI (magnetic resonance imaging): A magnet, radio waves, and a computer create a series of detailed pictures of areas inside the body
  • Biopsy: The removal of cells or tissues so they can be viewed under a microscope by a pathologist to check for signs of cancer. For renal cell cancer, a thin needle is inserted into the tumor and a sample of tissue is taken

RCC is divided into 4 stages. The stage you are diagnosed with is based on the size of the tumor and where it’s found.

Stage I

  • The tumor is 7 cm or smaller and is only in the kidney

Stage II

  • The tumor is larger than 7 cm and is only in the kidney

Stage III

  • The tumor is any size and has spread to nearby lymph nodes

OR

  • The tumor has spread to blood vessels in or near the kidney, or other areas near the kidney, and may have spread to nearby lymph nodes

Stage IV or advanced kidney cancer

  • The tumor has spread outside the fatty layer around the kidney and may have spread into the adrenal gland above the affected kidney, or nearby lymph nodes

OR

  • The tumor has spread to other parts of the body, such as the brain, lung, liver, or bone