The kidneys are a pair of bean-shaped organs located in the flank or back. They filter waste products from blood to produce urine and secrete important chemicals to maintain fluid/salt balance and blood pressure in humans.

A kidney tumour is a solid growth or lump in the kidney. Approximately 10-20% are benign (non-cancerous), and the rest are malignant (cancerous). It is important to distinguish solid tumours from fluid-filled cysts. Kidney cysts are very common, usually benign and rarely cause symptoms.


Most people have no symptoms of a kidney mass. They are often picked up accidently when people have scans for other reasons.

  • Most patients have no symptoms of a kidney mass
  • Blood in the urine – must be investigated as a third have a serious cause
  • Abdominal pain – usually represents bleeding in the mass
  • Non-specific symptoms such as lethargy, fatigue, weight loss, breathlessness and bone pain may be caused by hormone-like substances produced or spread of kidney cancer to other organs
  • It is rare to be able to feel a kidney mass as the kidney is buried deep within the body and partially covered by the rib cage


Scientists still do not know what triggers the start of a cancer, and why some people get cancer whilst others don't. However research shows that patients who develop cancer may have certain common characteristics (risk factors) that may or may not directly cause, but increase the chance of getting the disease.

  • Smoking
  • Syndromes – Birt-Hogg-Dube, tuberous sclerosis
  • Polycystic kidney disease


  • CT scan
  • Biopsy (selected patients)

When a kidney mass is diagnosed, your specialist will evaluate the tumour size, appearance, location and whether there are signs of spread with a CT scan of the chest, abdomen and pelvis. Sometimes, a biopsy will be recommended if the mass is small and the diagnosis is uncertain.


  • Surgery
  • Radiofrequency ablation
  • Cryotherapy
  • Chemotherapy
  • Immunotherapy
  • Surveillance

Kidney cancer is a potentially fatal condition that can be cured with surgical removal, if there are no signs of spread. Your specialist will discuss whether the entire kidney should be removed (nephrectomy) or only the cancer, leaving part of the kidney behind (partial nephrectomy). There are several ways to do this: open surgery (through a large incision), laparoscopic surgery (through small cuts, or keyhole) or robotic surgery (through small cuts, or keyhole, with the surgeon controlling the camera and robotic tools from a console in the theatre).

Some patients may not be fit enough to have major surgery. Radiofrequency ablation and cryotherapy are minimally invasive techniques used to destroy cancer cells using heat or by freezing.

Chemotherapy and immunotherapy are usually reserved for patients who have metastatic kidney cancer. This means the cancer has spread, most commonly to the lung, liver, bones or brain. There are also trials using chemotherapy and immunotherapy after cancers with aggressive features have been removed.

Surveillance or monitoring by repeated scans may be recommended if a small kidney mass is found and/or the risks of treatment outweigh the benefits for a particular individual.


Better Health Channel Kidney Cancer information sheet and links to related information and Victorian (Australia) support groups is the official Web site for the Better Health Channel. The BHC provides health and medical information, and is part of the Digital Strategy and Services Unit managed by the Department of Health, Victoria, Australia. This site is fully funded by the State Government and has no commercial advertising or corporate sponsorship.

Cancer Council Australia Coping with a Cancer Diagnosis information sheet and Helpline is the official Web site of Cancer Council Australia, a national non-government cancer control organisation that advises the Australian Government and other bodies on practices and policies to prevent, detect and treat cancer, and advocate for the rights of cancer patients for best treatment and supportive care.

Useful Information

BHC Fact Sheet

Cancer Council Fact Sheet

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