Chromophobe renal cell carcinoma is a subtype of the most common type of kidney cancer, called “renal cell carcinoma.” People with this subtype tend to have a better outlook than people with other types of kidney cancer.

Chromophobe renal cell carcinoma develops in the lining of the tubes in your kidney. These tubes filter waste from your blood and make urine. This type of kidney cancer is often diagnosed when the cancer is still contained in the kidney and rarely spreads to distant tissues.

Like other types of kidney cancer, chromophobe renal cell carcinoma is usually treated with surgery. Surgery may be combined with other treatments, such as immunotherapy for advanced-stage cancer.

Keep reading to learn more about chromophobe renal cell carcinoma, including its symptoms, potential treatments, and the outlook for people who have it.

Researchers estimate that about 5–7% of renal cell carcinomas are chromophobe renal cell carcinomas. Renal cell carcinoma makes up about 90% of kidney cancers.

Chromophobe renal cell carcinoma develops in the lining of the small tubules inside your kidney that filter your blood. It’s the third most common subtype of renal cell carcinoma, just behind clear cell renal cell carcinoma and papillary renal cell carcinoma.

Doctors can differentiate these cancers by examining the appearance of cells under a microscope. Chromophobe renal cell carcinoma cells often appear large and pale.

Is chromophobe renal cell carcinoma aggressive?

Chromophobe renal cell carcinoma is usually diagnosed when the cancer is still contained in the kidney. It doesn’t tend to spread to other organs as often as other types of renal cell carcinoma.

A subset of about 5% of chromophobe renal cell carcinomas have features that put them at risk of spreading to distant organs even after they’re treated surgically.

Was this helpful?

Many people have no symptoms when chromophobe renal cell carcinoma is diagnosed. The tumor may be found incidentally on abdominal imaging for an unrelated condition.

Classic symptoms of kidney cancer are rarely present in people with chromophobe renal cell carcinoma. When symptoms do appear, they may include:

Language matters

You’ll notice that the language used to share stats and other data points is pretty binary, especially with the use of the terms “males” and “females.”

Although we typically avoid language like this, specificity is key when reporting on research participants and clinical findings.

Unfortunately, the studies and surveys referenced below didn’t report data on, or include, participants who were transgender, nonbinary, gender nonconforming, genderqueer, agender, or genderless.

Was this helpful?

Doctors don’t know exactly what causes chromophobe renal cell carcinoma, but, like other cancers, it develops when genetic mutations cause cells to replicate uncontrollably.

Chromophobe renal cell carcinoma has been linked to mutations in specific genes, including:

  • TERT
  • TP53
  • PTEN

These mutations often seem to occur sporadically, which means they’re not linked to a family history. Only three rare hereditary conditions are related to an increased risk of developing chromophobe renal cell carcinoma. These conditions are:

Chromophobe renal cell carcinoma tends to develop at an earlier age than other renal cell carcinomas. The average age at diagnosis is 59 years, and males have this carcinoma diagnosed slightly more often than females.

Doctors use a variety of tests to determine the following information:

  • whether you have kidney cancer
  • how far your cancer has spread
  • which type of kidney cancer you have

The diagnostic tests may include:

Doctors can differentiate your cancer from other types of kidney cancer with a test called a “biopsy” in which they take a tissue sample with a long, thin needle. The sample is taken to a lab where doctors analyze the cells under a microscope.

Chromophobe renal cell carcinoma treatment usually involves surgery. Surgical options may include:

Some tumors that are smaller than 3 centimeters (1.2 inches) across may be treated with the following treatments instead of surgery:

Other treatment options for cancer that has spread to distant organs may include:

The outlook for people with chromophobe renal cell carcinoma is generally good, and there’s a low risk of the carcinoma spreading to distant tissues compared with other types of renal cell carcinoma.

When chromophobe renal cell carcinoma does spread, it tends to spread to the liver. It’s often curable with surgery alone.

The 5- and 10-year cancer-specific survival rates have been reported as 93% and 87%, respectively.

About 5% of chromophobe renal cell carcinomas are at risk of spreading to distant organs even after they’re removed surgically.

People whose chromophobe renal cell carcinoma has spread to distant organs have similar survival rates as people with other types of kidney cancer that has spread to distant organs.

People in the United States with kidney cancer that had spread to distant organs in 2012–2018 had a 15% 5-year relative survival rate. The 5-year relative survival rate is a measure of how many people with the cancer are alive 5 years later compared with people without the cancer.

People with chromophobe renal cell carcinoma, a rare type of kidney cancer, tend to have a good outlook when compared with others. This kind of carcinoma is often diagnosed before symptoms appear.

Treatment for chromophobe renal cell carcinoma usually involves surgery to remove part or all of your kidney. Additional treatments, such as immunotherapy, may be administered to control late stage cancers.