Kidney Cancer (Renal Cancer)

Kidney cancer is cancer that begins in the kidneys. The kidneys are two bean-shaped organs, each about the size of the fist. They are located behind the abdominal organs, with one kidney on each side of the spine.

In adults, renal cell carcinoma (RCC) is the most common type of kidney cancer. The incidence of kidney cancer seems to be increasing. If kidney tumor is discovered at an early stage, the cancer is small and confined to the kidney. A biopsy from the kidneys is also taken. To see if the cancer has spread (metastasized), further CT-scans are needed.

Urgent need for new, efficient treatments
Kidney cancer is more common among men than women. 80 percent of the patients are between the age of 40 and 69 at diagnosis and the median age for diagnosis is 63 years.


In one third of the kidney cancer patients, in approx. 140.000 patients per year, the cancer has already spread outside the kidney at time for diagnosis (source: WHO). For these patients, the prognosis is very poor, and the cancer is considered as incurable since the median survival time is less than two years.

Unfortunately, current treatment options usually only prolong life for a few months and are often associated with severe adverse effects. Only 20 percent of patients with advanced kidney cancer are alive five years after diagnoses.

 As the incidence rates and healthcare costs of advanced kidney cancer are projected to increase in the future due to the aging population, the development of an efficient treatment represents an urgent and major unmet clinical need.


“The biggest challenge in advanced renal cell carcinoma is that most patients cannot be cured with current medical therapy. Developing treatments that induce disease remission and eventually lead to cure is the highest priority for these patients.”

David F. McDermott, MD, professor, Harvard Medical School

It is not clear what causes most kidney cancers, but it begins when some kidney cells develop changes (mutations) in their DNA. A cell’s DNA contains the instructions that tell a cell what to do. The mutations cause the cells to grow and divide rapidly. The accumulating abnormal cells form a tumor that can grow beyond the kidney. Some cells can break off and spread (metastasize) for instance, via the bloodstream to grow in several distant parts of the body. 

Typical symptoms and signs of kidney cancer include blood in urine, persistent back pain, loss of appetite, unexplained weight loss, tiredness, and fever. Kidney cancer may have few and vague symptoms early in the development of the illness and symptoms may be over-looked.

Current treatments
If the tumor is detected early, then surgical removal can be curative. Unfortunately the diagnosis is sometimes made when the tumor has already spread to other organs. Today the disease is treated with various types of targeted drugs, often with severe side effects, and standard chemotherapy drugs have only very limited effect.

Advanced kidney cancer
If the kidney cancer is discovered before it has spread, it can often be cured using surgery to remove the tumor including a part of, or the entire kidney if detected in time. Kidney cancer is called advanced (metastatic) if it has spread locally or to other parts of the body. The cancer may be advanced already when the patient is first diagnosed. Alternatively, a primary kidney cancer may relapse after initial treatment. Kidney cancer can for instance, spread to the other kidney, tissues close to the kidney, like the bowel, as well as many other organs, including the lungs, liver and brain.

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