Understand kidney cancer

Kidney cancer is one of the most common cancers in the US and is twice as common in men than in women.

The information on this page may help you gain a better understanding of your kidney cancer diagnosis and what’s happening to your body. This may help when making important decisions with your doctor.

What is kidney cancer?

Kidney Cancer Age

Kidney cancer is a type of cancer that starts in the kidney. Renal cell carcinoma, also known as renal cell cancer, is the most common type of kidney cancer. Approximately 9 out of 10 kidney cancers are renal cell carcinomas. It usually develops as a single tumor on one kidney. However, there can be 2 or more tumors on one kidney or tumors on both kidneys at the same time.

Kidney cancer is most likely to develop in older people, with most being diagnosed between the ages of 65 and 74. In people younger than 45, kidney cancer is very uncommon.

Kidney cancer is more common in men, African Americans, American Indians, and Alaska Natives.

Stages of kidney cancer

From the National Cancer Institute (NCI)

The information below is based on information originally published by the National Cancer Institute (NCI), the US government’s main agency for cancer research, and is meant to be a general guide. Use this information to talk to your doctor about your specific stage of kidney cancer.

Kidney cancer is described in 4 stages ranging from I (1) to IV (4), with stage IV (4) being the most severe.

Stage I (1) kidney cancer

In stage I, the tumor is 7 centimeters or smaller and is found in the kidney only.

Stage II (2) kidney cancer

In stage II, the tumor is larger than 7 centimeters and is found in the kidney only.

Stage III (3) kidney cancer

In stage III, one of the following is found:

  • The tumor in the kidney is any size and cancer has spread to nearby lymph nodes.
  • Cancer has spread to blood vessels in or near the kidney (renal vein or vena cava), or to the structures in the kidney that collect urine, or to the layer of fatty tissue around the kidney.

Stage IV (4) kidney cancer

In stage IV, one of the following is found:

  • Cancer has spread beyond the layer of fatty tissue around the kidney and may have spread into the adrenal gland above the kidney with cancer or to nearby lymph nodes.
  • Cancer has spread to other parts of the body, such as the bones, liver, lungs, brain, adrenal glands, or distant lymph nodes.

Learn about a possible treatment option for certain patients with advanced kidney cancer.