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Kidney Cancer: Overview

The kidneys are bean-shaped organs, each about the size of your fist, located behind the abdomen (one on each side of the spine).  In adults, the most common type of kidney cancer is renal cell carcinoma, which begins in the solid portion of the kidneys. Another type of kidney cancer, transitional cell carcinoma, forms in the lining of the hollow portion of the kidney. Each year approximately 32,000 new cases are diagnosed and around 12,000 people die from the disease.  Although kidney cancer can develop in young adults, the risk increases with age.  Other risk factors include smoking, obesity, high blood pressure, exposure to various environmental substances, and certain hereditary diseases.

Kidney cancer seldom causes problems in its early stages. As a tumor grows, it may cause blood in the urine, persistent back pain, or unintentional weight loss. Kidney cancer cells may also spread (metastasize) outside your kidneys to nearby organs as well as to more distant sites in the body. If kidney cancer is detected and treated at an early stage, the chances for a full recovery are good.  The two most common ways that these tumors are discovered are by coincidental finding on CT scan and by presence of blood in the urine.  The blood in the urine may only be detectable by microscopic analysis (urinalysis), but sometimes it is easily visible.