Renal cell carcinomaA CT scan showing bilateral renal cell carcinomas
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Renal cell carcinoma

Renal cell carcinoma, also known by the eponym Grawitz tumor, is the most common form of kidney cancer arising from the renal tubule. It is the most common type of kidney cancer in adults. Initial therapy is with surgery. more...

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It is notoriously resistant to radiation therapy and chemotherapy, although some cases respond to immunotherapy.

Signs and symptoms

The classic triad is hematuria (blood in the urine), flank pain and an abdominal mass. This "classic triad" is infrequently present when the patient first presents for medical attention.

Other signs may include:

  • Abnormal urine color (dark, rusty, or brown) due to blood in the urine
  • Weight loss of more than 5% of body weight with emaciated, thin, malnourished appearance
  • More and more frequently, renal cell carcinoma is identified as an incidental finding on a medical imaging study of the abdomen (e.g. computed tomography a.k.a. CT) done for an unrelated purpose
  • The presenting symptom may be due to to metastatic disease, such as a pathologic fracture of the hip due to a metastasis to the bone
  • Enlargement of one testicle (usually the left, due to blockage of the left gonadal vein by tumor invasion of the left renal vein -- the right gonadal vein drains directly into the inferior vena cava)
  • Paraneoplastic phenomena (not directly due to the mass, but due to secreted substances with hormonal activity):
    • Vision abnormalities
    • Pallor or plethora
    • Excessive hair growth (females)
    • Constipation
    • Cold intolerance
  • High blood pressure


Renal cell carcinoma affects about three in 10,000 people, resulting in about 31,000 new cases in the US per year. Every year, about 12,000 people in the US die from renal cell carcinoma. It is more common in men than women, usually affecting men older than 55.

Why the cells become cancerous is not known. A history of smoking greatly increases the risk for developing renal cell carcinoma. Some people may also have inherited an increased risk to develop renal cell carcinoma, and a family history of kidney cancer increases the risk.

People with von Hippel-Lindau disease, a hereditary disease that also affects the capillaries of the brain, commonly also develop renal cell carcinoma. Kidney disorders that require dialysis for treatment also increase the risk for developing renal cell carcinoma.


Gross examination shows a hypervascular lesion in the renal cortex, which is frequently multilobulated, yellow (because of the lipid accumulation) and calcified.

Light microscopy shows tumor cells forming cords, papillae, tubules or nests, and are atypical, polygonal and large. Because these cells accumulate glycogen and lipids, their cytoplasm appear "clear", lipid-laden, the nuclei remain in the middle of the cells, and the cellular membrane is evident. Some cells may be smaller, with eosinophilic cytoplasm, resembling normal tubular cells. The stroma is reduced, but well vascularized. The tumor grows in large front, compressing the surrounding parenchyma, producing a pseudocapsule.


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Risk factors for renal cell carcinoma in women
From Nutrition Research Newsletter, 4/1/97

The incidence of kidney cancer in the US has increased in recent years. Most kidney cancers are renal cell carcinomas. The risk factors for this type of cancer are poorly understood, but may include obesity, smoking, alcohol intake, hypertension, use of hormone replacement therapy, and high intakes of meat, protein, and coffee.

This report describes the relationship between dietary and other factors and the risk of renal cell carcinoma in the Iowa Women's Health Study, a prospective study of US women that began in 1986. Dietary data for this study were collected using a 127-item food frequency questionnaire. During eight years of follow-up of 35,192 postmenopausal, predominantly white women, 62 cases of renal cell carcinoma were diagnosed.

Risk factors for renal cell carcinoma included increasing age, increasing weight, greater waist-to-hip ratio, and a history of blood transfusion. The only dietary factor that was predictive of the development of renal cell carcinoma was total dietary calcium, which was inversely associated with cancer risk.

This study, which is the largest reported cohort study of renal cell carcinoma among women, is the first to identify calcium intake as a possible protective factor. The findings confirm other evidence indicating that obesity is a risk factor for renal cell carcinoma. Several other risk factors suggested by previous studies, including smoking, alcohol, meat intake, and coffee drinking, were not confirmed in this study population.

Ronald J Prineas, Aaron R Folsom, Zhu Ming Zhang, Thomas A Sellers, and John Potter, Nutrition and Other Risk Factors for Renal Cell Carcinoma in Postmenopausal Women, Epidemiology 8(1):31-36 (fan 1997) [Correspondence: Ronald J Prineas, Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, University of Miami School of Medicine, PO Box 016069 (R-669), Miami FL 33101]

COPYRIGHT 1997 Frost & Sullivan
COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group

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