Renal Cell Carcinoma

Renal Cell Carcinoma

Carcinoma is the technical term for a cancer, a disease of the covering or lining of most internal organs and the skin. Cancer is where cells begin to grow and multiply uncontrollably where they are not needed, forming tumours.

Renal cell carcinoma (RCC) is where malignant (or cancerous) cells form in tubules within the kidney. These tiny tubes filter and clean the blood, taking out waste products such as dead blood cells and making urine.

Cancer that starts to grow in the renal pelvis (a funnel at the kidney outlet that collects urine), and the ureters (the tubes that lead from the renal pelvis to the bladder) is different from renal cell carcinoma.

Renal cell carcinoma accounts for more than 80% of all kidney cancers.

Symptoms of Renal Cell Carcinoma
Possible signs of renal cell carcinoma include blood in the urine, a swelling in the tummy, and continuous pain in the side, or below the ribs. Unexpected weight loss, high blood pressure and anaemia can also be indicators, along with a high temperature, night sweats, tiredness and feeling unwell. Men may experience swelling of the veins in the testicles.


However, other conditions may cause the same symptoms, whilst in a lot of cases there are no symptoms and the cancer is found during tests for other conditions. Blood in urine can be a symptom of a less serious condition that still requires treatment, such as a kidney or bladder stone.

Causes of Renal Cell Carcinoma
There are proven risk factors that can increase the chances of developing kidney tumours: such as smoking and obesity, a family history of kidney cancer, being over 50 years of age, and being a man.


Cases of renal cell carcinoma are increasing in line with rising obesity levels. Overweight people, particularly women, have higher levels of a hormone called oestrogen in their body, which may stimulate the growth of cancerous cells.

Diagnosis of Renal Cell Carcinoma
After discussing your previous health and treatments, your specialist urologist will make a physical examination of the abdomen and kidneys, followed by several tests:

  • Urine and blood samples will be sent to a laboratory for analysis, including a liver function test.
  • Intravenous pyelogram, or IVP: a series of x-rays of the kidneys, ureters, and bladder to find out if renal cell carcinoma is present in any of these organs.
  • Ultrasound scan: a painless procedure where high-energy sound waves are bounced off internal tissues or organs to form a picture of body tissues.
  • CT or CAT scan: an x-ray machine that takes a series of detailed pictures from different angles of areas inside the body.
  • MRI scan: another procedure that uses a magnet and radio waves to make a series of detailed pictures of the internal organs.
  • If a tumour is detected, a biopsy will be performed. Biopsy is the collection of cells or tissues, via a thin needle inserted into the tumour, for a pathologist to examine them under a microscope to check for signs of renal cell carcinoma.

More information can be found on the Diagnostic Tests and Procedures page.

Treatment of Renal Cell Carcinoma
After renal cell carcinoma has been diagnosed, tests are done to find out if cancer cells have spread within the kidney, the urinary tract, or to other parts of the body, and the stage the disease has reached (the size of the tumour). This is called staging and grading. It’s important to know the stage in order to plan treatment


Here is an excellent staging and grading model for Renal Cell Cancer.


As much depends on how advanced the disease is and your age and general health, there is no one treatment that suits all. Your cancer team will recommend what they think is the best treatment option, and the final decision will be yours.


Information on Surgical and Non-surgical Interventions can be found on our Renal Cell Carcinoma Treatments page.

Read More About Kidney problems