There are several types and subtypes of kidney cancer. While uncommon, certain kinds can affect teenagers.

In this article, we’ll go over the causes, symptoms, and outlook of kidney cancer in teens. We’ll also explain which types of kidney cancer teenagers might get and why.

Kidney cancer is also referred to as renal cancer. Kidney cancer is cancer that starts when cells grow out of control in kidney tissues.

The kidneys are organs that cleanse and filter blood by removing excess salt, water, and waste products. These byproducts become urine.

There are two kidneys, located one on each side of the spine, behind the abdomen. Kidney cancer can start in one or both kidneys.

Except for certain childhood cancers, kidney cancer primarily affects older adults. The average age of onset for kidney cancer is 64. Even though it’s rare, teenagers may also receive a diagnosis of kidney cancer.

In some instances, teens may be at the high end of the age spectrum for pediatric types of kidney cancer. Or, they may be at the low end of the age spectrum for kidney cancers that typically affect adults.

There are many types of kidney cancer. While rare, the kinds most likely to occur in teens include:

Renal cell carcinoma

Renal cell carcinoma (RCC) is the most common form of kidney cancer. Nine out of 10 cases of kidney cancers are renal cell carcinomas. There are several RCC subtypes, which include:

Renal cell carcinoma is rarely diagnosed in people under age 45. While rare in teens, RCC is one of the most common types of kidney tumor found in people ages 15 to 19.

Of the various RCC subtypes, translocation renal cell carcinoma and nonclear cell renal cell carcinoma are the ones most likely to be diagnosed in teenagers.

Renal medullary carcinoma

Renal medullary carcinoma (RMC) is a rare type of kidney cancer. It primarily affects young adults and adolescents of African descent who have sickle cell anemia or carry the sickle cell trait.

RMC is an aggressive form of kidney cancer. It affects more genetic males than genetic females.

Wilms’ tumor (nephroblastoma)

Wilms’ tumor is a rare childhood kidney cancer that typically affects very young children ages 3 to 5. Around 650 new cases of Wilms’ tumor are diagnosed annually in the United States.

While very rare in older populations, this condition is sometimes diagnosed in adolescents, teenagers, and adults.

African American children have a higher risk for Wilms’ tumor than other ethnic groups. Certain inherited medical and genetic conditions increase risk. They include:

  • aniridia
  • hemihyperplasia
  • Denys-Drash syndrome
  • Beckwith-Wiedemann syndrome
  • WAGR syndrome

There’s no one, single cause of kidney cancer in teens. The reason why one teen gets it and another one doesn’t isn’t completely understood.

Kidney cancer starts when mutations (changes) occur in the DNA of certain kidney cells. These mutations alter the way each cell behaves. When kidney cells become cancerous, they divide quickly and grow out of control. They may also spread (metastasize) to other parts of the body.

In teens, carrying inherited gene mutations for certain conditions, such as sickle cell disease, may make kidney cancer more likely to occur. Even so, kidney cancer in teens is rare.

Your teen’s healthcare professional will conduct a medical history and physical exam to check for symptoms. They will also ask about your family’s history of kidney cancer, sickle cell disease, and other conditions.

If kidney cancer is suspected, these diagnostic tests may be done:

Treatment for kidney cancer in teenagers is based on the stage and spread of the tumor.

Surgical removal of the tumor is a common first-line treatment. There are two types of kidney cancer surgery:

  • Partial nephrectomy: The tumor and surrounding tissue are removed.
  • Radical nephrectomy: The entire kidney is removed along with the tumor.

A partial nephrectomy may be done for early stage cancers that haven’t spread outside of the kidney.

A radical nephrectomy may be done for later stage cancers that have spread outside of the kidney to nearby lymph nodes or other organs. It may also be used to remove larger tumors or multiple tumors.

When there’s cancer in both kidneys, surgical removal of as much cancer as possible will be done in each kidney. In some instances, both kidneys will need to be removed. When this occurs, dialysis or a kidney transplant is needed.

Chemotherapy may be done prior to kidney cancer surgery to shrink the existing tumor or tumors. This makes surgery more likely to be successful. Chemotherapy may also be done after surgery to kill cancer cells that have metastasized to other areas of the body.

Other systemic treatments, such as targeted drug therapy and immunotherapy, may also be used to treat kidney cancer that has spread.

Some kidney cancer risk factors may take years to cause damage, making them less likely to affect teens. They include:

Other risk factors may be more likely to cause kidney cancer in younger people. They include:

  • family history of kidney cancer
  • genetics
  • ethnicity (African Americans, Native Americans, and Alaska Natives are most at risk)

The stage and amount of spread of your teen’s cancer will help determine their potential prognosis. The type of kidney cancer they have is also an important factor.

Living a healthy lifestyle and staying on top of follow-up appointments and treatments will be beneficial for supporting the best possible outcome. In some instances, a cure may be possible.

People with early stage, localized cancers have high survival rates. People with cancers that have spread regionally also have good survival rates. Kidney cancer that has metastasized can be more challenging to treat and presents the lowest overall survival rate.

It’s important to remember that treatments for kidney cancer are constantly changing and improving. Your teen may also wish to participate in a clinical trial.

What is the most common kidney tumor in childhood?

There are many types of childhood kidney cancers. The most common pediatric kidney cancer is congenital mesoblastic nephroma. This cancer is typically diagnosed in infants younger than 1 year. It may also be diagnosed prenatally, before birth.

Is kidney cancer hereditary?

Most kidney cancers are not heritable or passed down from parent to child. Hereditary genetic mutations may make kidney cancer more common in some families.

Rare, inherited conditions may make some families more likely to experience multiple incidents of kidney cancer among members. These conditions include von Hippel-Lindau disease.

Do kidney stones increase kidney cancer risk?

They can. Kidney stones may increase the risk for certain cancers, including renal cell carcinoma. However, not everyone who has kidney stones will go on to get kidney cancer. Kidney stones are uncommon in teens.

What is dialysis?

Dialysis is a manual treatment for kidney failure. It takes the place of healthy kidneys by filtering the blood and ridding the body of waste products, excess fluids, and toxins.

Kidney cancer in teenagers is rare. However, it may occur. Having genetic mutations for conditions, such as sickle cell disease, may increase the risk of kidney cancer in some instances.

The prognosis for kidney cancer in teens is determined, in part, by the type and stage of cancer they have. In many instances, survival is possible.