Whether you’re worried about developing kidney cancer, have recently been diagnosed or are trying to stay well after treatment, we’re here for you every step of the way. Our oncology specialists use advanced therapies designed to eliminate cancer and reduce the likelihood of recurrence.
What is kidney cancer?
Your kidneys are a pair of small, bean-shaped organs located on each side of your body, slightly below your ribs. They have a lot of responsibilities: removing toxins and waste from your blood, regulating your blood pressure, maintaining your body’s supply of red blood cells and keeping your bones healthy.
Kidney cancer, also known as renal cancer, develops when normal, healthy cells in the kidneys begin to grow and function differently. These cancerous cells build up, forming a mass called a tumor, which exists as a lump inside the kidney. In some cases, these cancerous cells can leave the kidney and travel to other parts of the body.
Types of kidney cancer
There are several types of kidney cancer:
- Renal cell carcinoma (RCC) – The most common type of kidney cancer, RCC only affects one kidney, not both. There are several types of renal cell carcinoma, named for how the cells look under the microscope.
- Clear cell – The most common of all renal cell carcinomas, these cells appear to be almost clear under a microscope.
- Chromophobe – Also clear or pale, chromophobes are larger than clear cells.
- Papillary – The second most common type of renal cell carcinoma, these cells resemble fingers when seen under a microscope and form in the smallest filtration tubes in the kidney.
- Unclassified – A rare form of RCC that, when viewed under a microscope, has cells that can’t be classified by shape or size.
- Collecting dust – A rare and aggressive type of kidney cancer, these cells resemble tubes.
- Sarcoma – This a rare form of cancer that develops in soft tissue in or around the kidney or kidneys.
- Wilms’ tumor – This cancer is most common in children and rarely occurs in adults.
- Lymphoma – This type of kidney cancer often causes the kidneys to get larger. It’s typically accompanied by swollen lymph nodes in other areas, such as the neck, abdomen or chest.
- Urothelial carcinoma – Also called transitional cell carcinoma, this less-common type of cancer begins in the kidney and eventually moves to the bladder.
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Kidney cancer risk factors
Certain behaviors, genetics and risk factors can increase your chances of developing kidney cancer. These include:
- High blood pressure: One-third of American adults have high blood pressure, or hypertension. Hypertension raises the risk of kidney failure and puts you at a higher risk for developing kidney cancer.
- Smoking: Tobacco use, including smokeless tobacco, cigarettes and pipes, nearly doubles the risk of developing kidney cancer.
- Family history: If you have a family member who has been diagnosed with kidney cancer, your risk of developing kidney cancer increases.
- Age: Your risk of kidney cancer increases as you get older, with the average diagnosis at age 64.
- Chronic kidney disease: If your kidney function is compromised, even if you aren’t currently on dialysis or in renal failure, you have a greater likelihood for developing kidney cancer.
- Other risk factors: These include smoking, environmental exposure to certain industrial chemicals, long-term dialysis for kidney failure, being overweight, overuse of certain pain relievers, being male or being African American.
Diagnosing kidney cancer
Our team of cancer doctors are experienced in diagnosing and treating kidney cancer at all stages, including advanced stages.
Some of the diagnostic tests your doctor may perform to test for renal cancer include:
- Blood or urine tests – These tests can rule out any issues with your kidneys that may be unrelated to cancer, such as a kidney infection, a non-cancerous kidney mass or kidney stones.
- Biopsy – During a biopsy, your doctor will remove a small sample of tissue using a thin needle or during a surgical procedure. The tissue is examined beneath a microscope to detect any cancerous cells (also called malignant cells).
- Imaging tests – Imaging tests, such MRIs, CT scans and PET scans, produce detailed pictures of the inside of your kidneys. These methods of diagnostic testing can determine the size of tumors and whether they have grown, shrunk or spread.
Kidney cancer treatment
At Geisinger, our team of highly trained kidney cancer specialists includes surgeons, medical oncologists, radiation oncologists, pathologists, radiologists, nurse navigators and support staff who come together to develop a personalized plan around you for treating kidney cancer.
Depending on the type, location and stage of your cancer, one or more of the following treatments may be recommended.
Surgery is a common method of treating kidney cancer. Our surgeons use the latest techniques to treat kidney cancer, including minimally invasive surgery, to offer you the best outcomes and path for healing.
Our surgeons are highly trained and board certified, which means they have passed an optional national exam to demonstrate their medical expertise. Many of our surgeons are also fellowship trained, holding additional training in specific types of cancer surgery. We routinely perform complex procedures that are often unavailable elsewhere in the area.
To treat kidney cancer, we offer robotic surgery, a precise, minimally invasive procedure. Robotic kidney surgery uses smaller incisions, which means less pain and faster recovery, so you can get back to your normal life. Instead of removing an entire kidney, we can remove just the cancerous area so you can keep the unaffected portion of your kidney. Preserving normal tissue helps you stay healthy enough to try additional treatments if needed in the future.
Surgery is also a treatment option for cancer that has metastasized, or spread, to other areas of the body.
Chemotherapy is a drug-based treatment designed to slow the growth of or shrink tumors. Chemotherapy drugs can be given through an IV or taken in a pill form.
The timing of your chemotherapy may be given:
- Before your surgery, to attempt to reduce the size of the tumor
- After your surgery, to destroy any cancer that remains in the area and reduce the chances of the cancer coming back
- Along with radiation therapy, which together are known as chemoradiation or chemoradiotherapy
At Geisinger, our team includes doctors called medical oncologists who specialize in chemotherapy. Our patients have access to clinical trials that include testing new chemotherapy drugs and combinations of medications that aren’t widely available.
Keeping you comfortable while you undergo treatment is important to us. Our state-of-the-art clinics, many of which have been recently renovated, offer heated seats and individual TVs during treatment.
Radiation oncology uses radiation to control or destroy harmful cancer cells, with tools to treat each unique cancer.
Our board-certified cancer doctors and highly skilled clinical team deliver conventional radiotherapy treatments that include:
- External beam radiation, which uses special technology to send X-ray radiation (photons) to the tumor from outside the body
- Internal radiation (brachytherapy), which targets the tumor using safe levels of radiation inside the body through radioactive tubes or radioactive seeds
- Intensity-modulated radiation therapy (IMRT), which uses a 3D image of the tumor to deliver high-precision radiotherapy that fits its exact outline
- Image-guided radiation therapy (IGRT), which is used to localize the radiation beam daily and treat cancers in areas of the body that move during and between treatments. This includes cone beam CT scans to accurately view the tumor and target it during treatment.
- Stereotactic body radiation therapy (SBRT), which uses precise beams of radiation to focus high doses of radiation that match the shape of the tumor, with very little damage to surrounding healthy tissues
CyberKnife® robotic radiosurgery is a non-invasive treatment for tumors that are hard to reach or inoperable. This robotic therapy targets complex tumors — including cancerous and non-cancerous tumors — by delivering high doses of targeted radiation safely, anywhere in the body. And it’s offered at the Frank M. and Dorothea Henry Cancer Center at Geisinger Wyoming Valley Medical Center in Wilkes-Barre.
No incisions involved. So you have quicker treatments, less pain and faster recovery. Learn more about CyberKnife.
Kidney cancer care at Geisinger
Cancer is unique to each person, which is why Geisinger’s cancer care team gets to know you along your journey. While some of our cancer specialists are trained in treating specific cancers, our entire team works together to help you fight your cancer.
Our kidney cancer specialists are dedicated to providing innovative treatments and personalized cancer care. We offer:
- Unmatched expertise – Our cancer team consists of surgeons, doctors and specialists, many of whom are fellowship trained. This team of highly trained specialists treats many people with kidney cancer each year, and is focused on delivering the most personalized, excellent care that is suited to your individual situation.
- Multidisciplinary care team – Those diagnosed with cancer have the opportunity to work with our experienced multidisciplinary care team, a multi-physician team that comes together to create a personalized treatment plan for each patient. This way, you can see your care team in one location, all during the same visit.
- Care designed for you, where you live – With locations throughout northeast, central and south-central Pennsylvania, our experienced cancer team provides consultations and comprehensive care. We offer leading-edge treatment options and tailored-to-you care backed by the expertise and innovation of a nationally recognized health system.
- Comprehensive specialty care – From chemotherapy, radiation and minimally invasive surgery options to national clinical trials and genetic testing, our kidney cancer specialists are dedicated to offering innovative treatment options and personalized care in convenient locations, so you don’t have to travel far. We’ll work with you to develop a personalized kidney cancer care plan based on your individual needs.
- Leading-edge clinical trials – Our extensive history with cancer research and clinical trials gives you access to new treatments before they become widely available. Participating in a trial may help you get better even if standard approaches haven’t worked. Find a clinical trial.
- Genetic testing and counseling programs – Special research programs such as MyCode® are only available at Geisinger. Participating in MyCode allows you to contribute to genetic research. By participating, some may receive information about their own genetic risks. Learn about MyCode.
- Cancer survivorship program – Just because your treatment is complete doesn’t mean your journey has ended. We offer a variety of support resources focused on helping you live your healthiest life. Learn about patient resources.