5 Types of Renal Cell Carcinoma: What You Need to Know

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  • Common Kidney Cancer

    Common Kidney Cancer

    Renal cell carcinoma (RCC) is the most common form of kidney cancer. According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), around 90 percent of all kidney cancers can be attributed to RCC, also called renal cell cancer.

    But not all renal cell cancer is the same type. In fact, there are five distinct subtypes of RCC.

    Click through the slideshow to learn what you need to know about the different types of RCC.


  • Clear Cell RCC

    Clear Cell RCC

    The different types of RCC are generally distinguished by the way that cancer cells appear when viewed under a microscope. In the most common type of RCC, called clear cell or conventional, the cells have a clear or pale appearance.

    According to the ACS, around 70 percent of individuals with renal cell cancer have this form of it. The growth of these cells can be either slow or fast.

    The American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) notes that clear cell RCC often responds well to treatment, including types of therapy that target certain proteins or genes.


  • Papillary RCC

    Papillary RCC

    After clear cell RCC, papillary RCC is the most common form of renal cell cancer.

    The ACS reports that approximately 10 percent of people with RCC have this type, which have projections that look like fingers under a microscope. Papillary RCC is divided into two further subtypes, known as Type 1 and Type 2.

    Papillary RCC is generally treated in the same method as clear cell RCC. However, the American Society of Clinical Oncology states that targeted therapy may not work as well for patients with papillary RCC.


  • Chromophobe RCC

    Chromophobe RCC

    Only about five percent of patients with RCC have the chromophobe subtype, according to ACS.

    Though these rare cancer cells may look similar to clear cell RCC, they tend to be bigger and have other distinguishing microscopic features.

    The Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center (MSKCC) reports that chromophobe RCC tends to be a “less aggressive” form of  the disease. That’s because the tumors can grow to be quite large before spreading to different parts of the body.

  • Oncocytoma RCC

    Oncocytoma RCC

    Another rare form of renal cell cancer is oncocytoma. The MSKCC estimates that this type accounts for around five percent of kidney tumors.

    Like with chromophobe RCC, oncocytoma tumors only rarely spread beyond the kidney, making it less deadly than those of other forms. The tumors are also very slow-growing.

    The ACS actually considers these tumors to be benign (non-cancerous). They can grow quite large, however, and can be removed through surgery.

  • Collecting Duct RCC

    Collecting Duct RCC

    Another rare subtype is collecting duct RCC. This type accounts for less than one percent of all cases, according to MSKCC. It appears most often in young adults.

    In this form of the condition, the cells can appear as “irregular tubes” under a microscope, according to the ACS.

    Though collecting duct RCC is uncommon, it can be aggressive. It can also be resistant to traditional treatments that are effective for other tumor types.

  • Unclassified RCC

    Unclassified RCC

    In addition to the five main types of RCC, there are kidney tumors that don’t fit in any of the other categories. One such way that a tumor could look different than the other tumor types is that there can be more than one cell type visible under a microscope.

    These tumors are rare, accounting for only three to five percent of RCC tumors, per MSKCC. But they can be quite aggressive and require prompt treatment.

  • Taking Steps

    Taking Steps

    Each type of RCC requires its own course of treatment, so it’s important for your doctor to determine which one you have quickly.

    It’s possible that more than one tumor is present in one kidney. In some cases, you may have multiple tumors in both kidneys, though it’s most likely a single tumor.

    If kidney cancer spreads, it is more challenging to successfully treat. Talk to your doctor about kidney cancer, and find out what you need to know about treatment options.