The life expectancy for people with renal cell carcinoma can depend on many factors, including how far the cancer has spread, a person’s age, and overall health.

Kidney cancer occurs when cancer cells form in the kidneys. According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), over 90% of kidney cancers are renal cell carcinomas (RCC), which start in the kidney tubules.

Renal cell carcinoma typically has a less optimistic survival rate. But advances in treatment have improved the outlook for many people.

Many factors can affect your personal life expectancy with renal cell carcinoma. These can include:

  • the cancer stage at diagnosis, which is based on how far the cancer has spread
  • your overall health
  • your age
  • your subtype of renal carcinoma
  • how well your cancer responds to treatment

Your overall health is a key factor for predicting your outlook after being diagnosed with kidney cancer. People with kidney cancer tend to be older, which also affects survival rates.

The biggest factor affecting a kidney cancer outlook is the stage of the disease when it’s diagnosed. Chances of survival are much better when the disease is diagnosed before it has spread and can be removed surgically.

Survival rates for renal cell carcinoma are based on the percentage of people who live at least 5 years after the cancer is discovered. The survival rate differs depending on the cancer stage at the time of diagnosis.

The 5-year average survival rate for renal cell carcinoma is as follows:

  • Stage 1: 90% 5-year survival rate
  • Stage 2: 50% 5-year survival rate
  • Stage 3: 30% 5-year survival rate
  • Stage 4: 5% 5-year survival rate

These numbers are based on averages of people diagnosed with renal cell carcinoma at least 5 years ago. While the information can provide an estimate of the overall outlook of people with renal cell carcinoma, it does not take into account personal factors that may affect your individual life expectancy.

In addition, your outlook may be better than these survival ratings show, as treatments continue to improve over time. For specific information about your survival rate, it’s important to talk with your care team.

Medical professionals use cancer stages to describe the size of the cancer and how far it has spread. The stages of kidney cancer are:

  • Stage 1 means the cancer is only in the kidney, and the tumor is 7 centimeters long or smaller.
  • Stage 2 means the cancer is still contained to the kidney, but the tumor is larger than 7 centimeters.
  • Stage 3 means the cancer is also present in a lymph node near the kidney, or in a main kidney blood vessel or fatty tissue around the kidney.
  • Stage 4 means the cancer has spread to the adrenal gland on top of the kidney or to another organ or distant lymph nodes.

Stages 3 and 4 indicate that the cancer has metastasized, or spread to other parts of your body. Kidney cancer spreads through blood, lymph nodes, or by direct extension of the original cancerous tumor into nearby tissue or structures.

Treatment for kidney cancer depends on the stage of the cancer. All treatment forms typically have side effects. Doctors usually recommend additional medications or other therapies to treat any side effects you experience. In some cases, they may decide to use another therapy.

Treatment options for renal cell carcinoma may include:

Surgery and medical procedures

If possible, surgeons typically use surgical resection to remove the tumor. This can include:

  • Partial nephrectomy: This operation spares the kidney but removes the tumor and some of the surrounding tissue.
  • A simple nephrectomy: This operation removes the entire affected kidney.
  • Radical nephrectomy: This operation removes the kidney, adrenal gland, and surrounding tissue. It may also remove nearby lymph nodes.

If the cancer has spread to another part of the body, doctors may recommend removing it or as much of it as possible.

If surgery is not possible, doctors may recommend other procedures to remove or shrink the tumor. These can include:

  • Arterial embolization: This procedure can shrink the tumor. It involves preventing the tumor cells’ access to what they need to grow.
  • Cryoablation: This procedure involves freezing cancer solid cells in a contained area to destroy them.

Radiation therapy

Radiation therapy uses radiation to destroy or damage cancer cells and prevent growth. Doctors may recommend it after surgery to target any remaining cancer cells. They may also recommend it to relieve symptoms in some cases if surgery is not possible.


Doctors may recommend chemotherapy in addition to other treatments for kidney cancer. It can also stop or prevent tumor growth.


Immunotherapy drugs boost your body’s immune system and help it target and destroy cancer cells. They block proteins that evade the body’s immune response which helps the body more effectively target cancer cells.

Targeted therapy

Targeted therapies are drugs that target specific receptors or molecules along the cancer cell growth pathways that slow or halt cancer growth. Targeted therapies can attack cancer cells or inhibit certain proteins and substances that typically help cancer cells grow.

Clinical trials

People with renal cell carcinoma can take part in clinical trials. These trials may test new therapies or new combinations of existing therapies.

In some cases, drug companies cover treatment offered in a clinical trial.

If you are interested in participating in a clinical trial, you can talk with your doctor about options that may be a good fit.

Renal cell carcinoma occurs when cancer cells form in the tubules of the kidney.

The biggest factor affecting your outlook with kidney cancer is the stage of the disease when it’s diagnosed. Early diagnosis typically results in a more optimistic outlook.

A cancer diagnosis can be upsetting and life changing, but treatment may help improve your individual outlook and symptoms.

Talk with a doctor about any questions, concerns, symptoms, and side effects you have. They may be able to recommend additional therapies that best support you.