Kidney cancer can begin in either the outer part of the kidney or its inner lining. The outer cortex of the kidney filters the blood and concentrates the excrement into urine. Kidney cancer that occurs in the outer portion of the kidney is known as renal cell carcinoma (RCC). Approximately 55,000 new cases of renal cell carcinoma incidence are documented each year and RCC incident rates are increasing.

Kidney cancer that starts in the inner lining of the kidney, which funnels and drains urine, is known as urothelial or transitional cell carcinoma. Urothelial carcinoma is very similar in many ways to most types of bladder cancer.

Treatment of both types of kidney cancer requires either partial or whole nephrectomy, or removal of the kidney. Urothelial carcinoma treatment also involves the surgical removal of a portion of the ureter.

Your Care at Winship

As a patient with kidney or renal cell cancer, your best long-term outcome will be achieved with a comprehensive, coordinated approach that incorporates the most up-to-date therapies.

Your Winship care team draws on Emory's vast resources in surgical oncology, radiation therapy and medical oncology to provide the newest, most effective practices and treatments for kidney or renal cancer.

Our multidisciplinary care teams include oncology surgeons, radiologists, pathologists, pharmacists and advanced practice nurses with expertise in kidney cancer and genitourinary cancers. As specialists, our teams develop groundbreaking surgeries and treatments that produce better outcomes and are adopted by other leading cancer centers.

The benefits of our multidisciplinary and highly experienced teams include:

  • Access to doctors and surgeons who rank among the top cancer experts in the world.
  • Weekly review of patient cases by the full team of experts.
  • Coordinated scheduling for appointments among various specialties.
  • Access to a nurse navigator to assist you throughout the treatment process.
  • Access to support programs and groups for you and your caregivers.
  • Availability of new treatment options within our clinical trials program.

Diagnosing Your Kidney Cancer

There are various imaging and diagnostic tests that are used to detect and diagnose renal cell carcinoma, the most common type of kidney cancer, and other types of kidney cancer.

Common kidney cancer symptoms include unexplained weight loss, fever, blood in the urine, persistent side pain, a lump or mass in the side or abdomen, and fatigue.

Kidney cancer risk factors include smoking, obesity, high blood pressure, and long-term dialysis. Kidney cancer is most common in men over 40.

Diagnostic techniques:

  • Physical exam and patient history
  • Blood test: levels of certain substances in the blood are measured for signs of kidney cancer.
  • Urinalysis: tests the color and content of urine including sugar, protein, red and white blood cells.
  • Biopsy: a collection of cells that can be viewed by a pathologist to diagnose cancer. For renal cell cancer, a thin needle is inserted into the tumor and a sample of tissue is withdrawn.

Imaging techniques include CT scan, MRI, Ultrasound and X-ray.

Your Treatment Options

Your individualized treatment plan will take into account the stage of your disease.

One or more of the following types of treatment will be used.

Surgery: There are several types of surgery for kidney cancer. Depending on the stage of the tumor, your care team may select one of the following:

  • Partial nephrectomy: the surgeon removes only the part of the kidney that contains the tumor. Used mainly when a patient only has one kidney, when cancer affects both kidneys or when the tumor is less than four centimeters.
  • Radical nephrectomy: the surgeon removes the entire kidney along with the adrenal gland and some surrounding tissue. Lymph nodes may also be removed.
  • Simple nephrectomy: the surgeon removes the entire kidney, but no other tissue.

Chemotherapy: chemotherapy has shown limited effectiveness against kidney cancer.

Radiation: Radiation therapy uses high-energy x-rays to kill cancer cells. Radiation treatment may be used to reduce the size of the tumor before surgery or after surgery to destroy any cancer cells remaining in the area. Learn more about radiation therapy treatments and services.

Biological therapy: may be used for patients with metastatic kidney cancer.

Robotic Partial Nephrectomy: Emory physicians provide expertise in focally treating kidney tumors while sparing the healthy portion of the kidney. Avoiding the removal of the entire kidney lessens the chance of kidney failure and other complications after the procedure.

Using the laparoscopic or robotic partial nephrectomy technique as a treatment for kidney cancer is the ideal treatment option for patients with small, single tumors in the kidney. The surgery allows certain tumors to be surgically removed from the kidney before the organ is then reconstructed. Robotic partial nephrectomy is regularly performed at Emory University Hospital and Emory Saint Joseph's Hospital.

In addition to delivering the highest quality medical care, we recognize the importance of the psychological and emotional aspects of living with a cancer diagnosis and of dealing with treatment. Our supportive oncology team addresses these issues in a timely manner with additional support from counselors, nurse navigators, dietitians and social service professionals.