Kidney cancer and bladder cancer affect different parts of your urinary tract. They share some risk factors and symptoms but have unique diagnostic processes and treatments.

Kidney and bladder cancer can cause similar symptoms, but their causes, risk factors, and treatments differ.

Read on to learn more about the symptoms of kidney and bladder cancer, how a doctor may diagnose each condition, and how the treatments and causes differ.

Your kidneys and bladder are parts of your urinary tract. Cancers in either organ typically cause urinary symptoms, but because of their slightly different locations and functions, both may cause unique symptoms.

The most common symptoms and signs of kidney cancer include:

The most common symptoms of bladder cancer include:

You may also notice some fatigue and sudden loss of weight or appetite with bladder cancer.

A doctor might use a urinalysis to test for blood or cancer cells in your urine. A complete blood count (CBC) may also show signs of either cancer. Both cancers may also be diagnosed by a biopsy.

Other tests for kidney cancer include:

  • kidney function tests
  • abdominal ultrasound to check for tumors or masses
  • renal angiography to check for blood supply to tumors in your kidneys
  • intravenous pyelogram that uses dye to make it easier to see your kidneys on X-rays
  • CT scan to check your kidneys for tumors or masses

Other common tests for bladder cancer include:

  • cystoscopy to check inside your bladder
  • biopsy to check for cancer cells
  • urine tumor marker test to rule out different types of bladder cancer

Treatment for either type of cancer aims to get rid of cancer cells or to stop them from growing or spreading. Surgery is typically the first treatment option for both kidney and bladder cancer.

Surgical options for kidney cancer include:

  • radical nephrectomy to remove the kidney and surrounding tissues affected by cancer
  • conservative nephrectomy to remove only part of the kidney and surrounding tissues
  • cryosurgery to freeze and kill cancerous tissue

Surgical options for bladder cancer include:

  • removing the tumor from the bladder tissues
  • removing part of your bladder
  • removing your whole bladder (radical cystectomy)

Doctors may also use the following treatments for either kidney or bladder cancer:

  • radiation therapy to prevent cancer cells from growing or spreading (more commonly used for bladder cancer)
  • chemotherapy to stop aggressive cancer cells from growing
  • immunotherapy to help your immune system destroy cancer cells
  • targeted therapy to help stop the blood vessels that can nourish cancer cells from forming

Genetic mutations in your DNA cause cancer cells to grow, though it’s not always clear what triggers these genetic changes. They may be related to random mutations that occur when your cells multiply or to environmental factors, like exposure to chemicals or tobacco smoke.

Some cancers may have a hereditary component, which means that certain genetic mutations that run in families may increase your risk of developing a specific type of cancer.

According to the National Cancer Institute, about 5–8% of all kidney cancers are caused by inherited syndromes.

Inherited genetic mutations can also increase your risk of bladder cancer, but the American Cancer Society notes that this occurrence is rare.

Having a family history of kidney or bladder cancer can increase your risk of getting these cancers.

Both kidney and bladder cancer are also much more common in people assigned male at birth. Kidney cancer is twice as common in males, while bladder cancer is four times as common in males.

Other known risk factors for kidney cancer include:

Other known risk factors for bladder cancer include:

  • smoking
  • being around chemicals, like gasoline, paints, and diesel fumes, for long periods
  • having a bladder infection known as “schistosomiasis“
  • drinking water with arsenic or chlorine in it
  • consuming herbal supplements containing Aristolochia
  • taking the chemotherapy medication cyclophosphamide (Cytoxan)
  • undergoing radiation therapy on your pelvis
  • having a lot of bladder infections over time
  • not drinking enough water

About 77% of people with kidney cancer live 5 years or longer after diagnosis compared with people who don’t have the disease. The percentage drops to about 15% when kidney cancer spreads far beyond your kidneys.

About 77% of people with bladder cancer also live about 5 years or longer after diagnosis. This percentage can drop as low as 8% if the bladder cancer spreads.

Here are some of the most frequently asked questions about the differences between kidney and bladder cancer.

How do you rule out kidney and bladder cancer?

A doctor may use several diagnostic tests to rule out kidney and bladder cancer, such as a urinalysis or a CBC. A CT scan may detect kidney cancer, while a cystoscopy may detect bladder cancer.

Both cancers require a biopsy to confirm the diagnosis.

Is there pain with kidney or bladder cancer?

You may not feel pain in the early stages of kidney or bladder cancer, but as kidney or bladder cancer spreads, you may feel pain in your pelvis and back.

Does bladder cancer spread to the kidneys?

Some types of bladder cancer, such as urothelial cell carcinoma, can spread to the kidneys.

Can you have bladder and kidney cancer at the same time?

It’s rare to have bladder and kidney cancer at the same time, but a 2018 study suggests that it’s possible to have both simultaneously.

Kidney and bladder cancer are distinct conditions that affect different parts of your urinary tract. They both cause urinary symptoms, but each also has unique symptoms.

Doctors can usually confirm kidney cancer with a biopsy.

Surgery to remove the cancerous cells is the standard first line of treatment for either cancer in the early stages, though treatment may also include chemotherapy, radiation, and other medications.