About the kidneys and kidney cancer

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1 About the kidneys and kidney cancer This information is an extract from the booklet Understanding kidney cancer. You may find the full booklet helpful. We can send you a free copy see page 5. The kidneys Contents The kidneys About kidney cancer Risk factors and causes Signs and symptoms Most people have two kidneys. They sit at the back of the body, one on each side, just underneath the ribcage. The kidneys filter the blood and remove waste products, which they convert into urine. Urine drains from each kidney, through a tube called a ureter, to the bladder. The kidneys in the body Adrenal gland Right kidney Right ureter Left kidney Left ureter Bladder Questions about cancer? Ask Macmillan Page 1 of 5

2 Blood goes to the kidney through a blood vessel called the renal artery. Renal means to do with the kidney. Thousands of tiny filters, called nephrons, filter the blood. It then goes back to the rest of the body through the renal vein. The kidneys also help to control the balance of fluid, salt and minerals in the body. And, they maintain blood pressure. The part of the kidney that makes urine is called the cortex. The part that collects urine is called the medulla. On top of each kidney there is a small gland called the adrenal gland, which produces hormones. The kidneys and adrenal glands are surrounded by a layer of fat, contained in a capsule of fibrous tissue. The structure of the kidneys Lymph nodes Adrenal gland Fat layer Capsule Medulla Renal vein (to vena cava) Renal artery Kidney Cortex Ureter About kidney cancer Each year, over 10,000 people in the UK are diagnosed with kidney cancer. It s more common in men than in women. Usually cancer only affects one kidney. It s rare for cancer to be in both kidneys. Page 2 of 5 Questions about cancer? Ask Macmillan

3 Types of kidney cancer There are different types of kidney cancer. About 90% of kidney cancers (9 out of 10) are renal cell cancers (RCC). They start in the cortex of the kidney (see diagram on page 2). There are different types of RCC. The most common type is clear cell renal cancer. Less common types are papillary renal cell cancer, chromophobe renal cell cancer and collecting duct renal cell cancer. Risk factors and causes The causes of kidney cancer are unknown, but research is going on to try to find out more. There are certain things that can affect the chances of developing kidney cancer. These are called risk factors. Having a risk factor doesn t necessarily mean you ll get kidney cancer. Age The risk of kidney cancer increases with age. Most people who get kidney cancer are over 60. Smoking The longer a person smokes for and the more they smoke, the greater their risk of getting kidney cancer. Risk goes down when a person stops smoking. Being overweight Studies show that being overweight increases the risk of getting kidney cancer. Medical conditions Having high blood pressure may slightly increase the risk of kidney cancer. But most people with high blood pressure don t develop kidney cancer. People with advanced kidney disease have a higher risk of developing kidney cancer. The risk is greatest for people who need treatment to do the work of the kidneys (dialysis). Questions about cancer? Ask Macmillan Page 3 of 5

4 Family history Most kidney cancers aren t inherited. But, your risk may be higher than average if a parent, brother, sister or child of yours has had kidney cancer. Genetic risk Some rare genetic conditions can increase the risk of developing kidney cancer. These include von Hippel-Lindau disease, hereditary papillary RCC (HPRCC) and Birt-Hogg- Dube (BHD) syndrome. Kidney cancers caused by an inherited gene change are more likely to happen at a younger age. They may cause several tumours, and affect both kidneys. Exposure to certain materials at work An increased risk of kidney cancer has been linked to working with blast furnaces or coke ovens in the steel and coal industries. Exposure to certain materials may also increase risk. These include cadmium, lead, asbestos and trichloroethylene (Tric), which are used in heavy engineering. Kidney cancer is not infectious and you can t pass it on to other people. Signs and symptoms Small kidney cancers don t usually cause symptoms. They are often diagnosed by chance. For example, when people are having tests or scans for some other reason. When kidney cancer does cause symptoms these may include: blood in the urine (this is the most common symptom) a dull pain in your side between your upper abdomen and back a high temperature, night sweats and feeling very tired losing weight for no obvious reason a lump in the tummy area, side or back. Page 4 of 5 Questions about cancer? Ask Macmillan

5 Most people with these symptoms won t have kidney cancer. They can be caused by more common conditions. But, if you have any symptoms, it s important to get them checked by your doctor. I had lost a lot of weight I was fitting in clothes that were my 12-year-old s. I was actually eating just as much as before. I was very tired as well, but I was working full-time, so it was easy to put it down to that. My back had also been sore, but I thought nothing of it. Eileen More information and support More than one in three of us will get cancer. For most of us it will be the toughest fight we ever face. And the feelings of isolation and loneliness that so many people experience make it even harder. But you don t have to go through it alone. The Macmillan team is with you every step of the way. To order a copy of Understanding kidney cancer, or any other cancer information, visit be.macmillan.org.uk or call We make every effort to ensure that the information we provide is accurate and up to date but it should not be relied upon as a substitute for specialist professional advice tailored to your situation. So far as is permitted by law, Macmillan does not accept liability in relation to the use of any information contained in this publication, or thirdparty information or websites included or referred to in it. Macmillan Cancer Support Registered charity in England and Wales (261017), Scotland (SC039907) and the Isle of Man (604). Registered office 89 Albert Embankment, London, SE1 7UQ REVISED IN JUNE 2015 Planned review in 2017 Questions about cancer? Ask Macmillan Page 5 of 5

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