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7 Symptoms of Renal Cell Carcinoma

Renal cell carcinoma

Fast facts

  1. Symptoms of renal cell carcinoma (RCC) most often occur during its later stages.
  2. RCC accounts for 90 percent of all kidney cancer cases.

Renal cell carcinoma (RCC) is the most common type of kidney cancer, accounting for 9 out of 10 cases of kidney cancer. RCC usually manifests as one tumor, but it may include two tumors. The tumors can both be in the same kidney, or there can be one tumor in each. Risk factors for this type of cancer include:

Surgical treatment for RCC is often recommended, depending on what stage the cancer is at. The survival rate is fairly high if the cancer is caught early, with a five-year survival rate of 81 percent for people with stage I disease.

Symptoms of RCC

If you have RCC, you’re not likely to experience symptoms until the later stages when the tumors have grown larger. RCC is most often diagnosed when a person is being examined for another reason. A tumor may show on an ultrasound or a CT scan before an individual experiences any symptoms.

The symptoms that are caused by kidney tumors are similar to those caused by other conditions, like bladder infections or kidney stones. If you experience any of the symptoms, you should see your doctor.

Hematuria

A tumor caused by RCC can cause you to have blood in your urine, a phenomenon known as hematuria. The amount of blood may be visible, giving your urine a pink tint. It may also be a microscopic amount, only visible by examining a urine sample under a microscope or by performing a test to detect small amounts of blood.

Lower back pain

A tumor in one or both kidneys that has grown to a significant size can cause pain. If you have pain that is originating in your kidney, you may feel pain in your lower back and to the side, just below the rib cage. Pain caused by a tumor will be steady and won’t go away, whereas pain from a strained muscle may change or lessen with movement. If you have pain from an injury, it’s unlikely to be related to a kidney tumor.

Lump

If a kidney tumor caused by RCC has grown very large, it may produce a noticeable lump that extends outward from your body. The lump is usually low in your abdomen, either on your back, under the rib cage, or on your side. To produce such a lump, the tumor has to be fairly large.

Anemia

Anemia is a condition that can be caused by many different factors. It refers to having low levels of red blood cells that carry oxygen. RCC can cause anemia, which may make you feel tired, sluggish, and run down.

Fatigue

Having a tumor in your kidney may cause you to feel fatigued. One reason may be anemia caused by the cancer. Your fatigue could also be a result of the cancer cells competing with your healthy cells for nutrients. You may be fatigued for many reasons, such as having a cold. If you feel unusually tired for a long period of time and you can’t explain it, contact your doctor.

Fever

RCC may cause you to have a fever. A fever is the natural result of your immune system fighting an infection, so having a fever may be caused by a number of illnesses. If you have a fever and no other symptoms of an infection, or if a fever does not get better after an illness, you should see a doctor.

Weight loss

Unexplained weight loss is a possible symptom of RCC. If you’re not dieting, or your weight loss is accompanied by fatigue and fever, you should see your doctor for a diagnosis. Cancer cells in the kidney can out-compete your healthy cells for nutrients, leading to unintentional weight loss.

Outlook

If you experience any of the symptoms that are common with later stage RCC, don’t automatically assume you have cancer. These symptoms can be caused by a wide range of conditions, many of which are not serious. If you do have RCC, you have treatment options that include surgery and medications. The earlier you receive a diagnosis for the cancer, the greater the chance that treatment will be successful.

You asked, we answered

  • Question: Are there any physical symptoms of early stage RCC?
  • Most often there are no symptoms at all in early stage RCC. You may notice blood in your urine, but this may be a sign of later stage RCC.

    - Rachel Bernard, MD
  • Answers represent the opinions of our medical experts. All content is strictly informational and should not be considered medical advice.

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