Kidney Cancer

The kidneys are two fist-sized organs located near the back on either side of the abdomen. They filter waste from the blood and remove excess water, forming urine. Kidney cancer usually starts in the tiny cells that filter the blood.

Like other cancers, kidney cancer begins when damaged cells begin to grow out of control. Unlike normal cells, which live for a time and then die in the body’s natural renewal process, cancerous cells live beyond their normal life and begin to crowd out healthy tissue.

Kidney cancer can cause visible blood in the urine, but is usually not painful. It cannot be seen for diagnosis without advanced imaging techniques.

Two methods are used to determine whether you have kidney cancer:

  • Radiographic studies, such as computed tomography (CT), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or ultrasound scans. These studies help achieve the important task of distinguishing simple, fluid-filled renal cysts that are unlikely to be cancerous from solid renal masses, which are more likely to be tumors. By determining which category a cyst or mass falls into, these images help determine appropriate treatment.
  • Biopsy. In some patients, it may be necessary to harvest kidney tissue for examination under a microscope to determine the presence of cancer.

Kidney Cancer Treatment

Kidney specialists at the Indiana University Health Melvin & Bren Simon Cancer Center provide care to patients from throughout the United States. Our extensive practice provides a level of expertise with a multidisciplinary approach that is not easily matched by other medical centers. The center is one of the most experienced in the Midwest for surgical and medical management of kidney cancer. Our experience with even the rarest forms of cancer helps us deliver better outcomes for patients.

If you are diagnosed with kidney cancer, your treatment plan will be customized based on your specific needs and the latest recommendations for your type of cancer.

When appropriate, therapeutic options for kidney cancer can include one or more of the following:

  • Surgery to remove the cancer.
    • Radical nephrectomy. For large tumors, the entire kidney is removed when it cannot be saved.
    • Partial nephrectomy. For smaller renal tumors, the tumor can be removed without sacrificing the entire kidney. This approach can help preserve renal function and decrease the chance of the patient requiring dialysis or developing renal failure following surgery.
  • Surgical Approaches.
    • Minimally-invasive surgery, including robot-assisted laparoscopic surgery. Successfully used in the majority of patients with kidney cancer. Post-operative convalescence is quicker with less pain following surgery with this technique.
    • Open surgery. Ideal for large renal tumors, especially with extension into those near adjacent critical structures. Removal of lymph nodes is useful for some patients.
  • Cryoablation. Destroys cancer cells with extreme cold.
  • Immunologic therapy. Uses the body’s own immune system to fight cancer.
  • Angiogenesis inhibiting drugs. These drugs prevent the formation of new blood vessels that may feed a tumor.
  • Targeted therapies. Specific drugs to treat kidney cancer.
  • Active surveillance. Close follow-up with periodic imaging of some high-risk patients. This is useful because some small renal tumors pose little risk of harming patients.

The IU Health Simon Cancer Center has doctors with a special interest in one or more treatments for kidney cancer. Your situation and treatment needs determine which doctor cares for you.

Kidney Cancer Research

Our program is distinguished from other cancer centers through our commitment to advancing research and treatment for kidney cancer. We perform clinical trials that have the potential to improve clinical care by examining new technologies and medical therapies.

We maintain extensive research collaborations with researchers at Indiana University School of Medicine. These collaborations bring our patients the latest research and advanced clinical care. More information about cancer research can be found on the Indiana University School of Medicine website.

At any given time, numerous clinical trials are underway at IU Health Simon Cancer Center. Clinical trials are tests of new drugs and other treatments that may be more effective than those currently used. Depending on your diagnosis, you may have access to one or more of these trials.