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- Kidney cancer facts*
- What are the kidneys?
- What is cancer?
- What are kidney cancer causes and risk factors?
- What are kidney cancer symptoms and signs?
- How is kidney cancer diagnosed?
- How is kidney cancer staging determined?
- What are kidney cancer treatments?
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Quick GuideUnderstanding Cancer: Metastasis, Stages of Cancer, and More
What are the kidneys?
Your kidneys are a pair of organs in your abdomen. Each kidney is about the size of a fist.
Your kidneys are part of the urinary tract. They make urine by removing wastes and extra water from your blood.
Urine collects in a hollow space (renal pelvis) in the middle of each kidney. Urine passes from your renal pelvis into your bladder through a long tube called a ureter. Urine leaves your bladder through a shorter tube (the urethra).
Attached to the top of each kidney is an adrenal gland. A layer of fatty tissue and an outer layer of fibrous tissue surround the kidney and adrenal gland.
What is cancer?
Cancer begins in cells, the building blocks that make up tissues. Tissues make up the kidneys and the other organs of the body.
Normal cells grow and divide to form new cells as the body needs them. When normal cells grow old or get damaged, they die, and new cells take their place.
Sometimes, this process goes wrong. New cells form when the body doesn't need them, and old or damaged cells don't die as they should. The buildup of extra cells often forms a mass of tissue called a growth or tumor.
Tumors in the kidney can be benign (not cancer) or malignant (cancer). Benign tumors are not as harmful as malignant tumors:
- Benign tumors (such as cysts):
- are usually not a threat to life
- can be treated or removed and usually don't grow back
- don't invade the tissues around them
- don't spread to other parts of the body
- Malignant growths:
- may be a threat to life
- usually can be removed but can grow back
- can invade and damage nearby tissues and organs
- can spread to other parts of the body
Kidney cancer cells can spread by breaking away from the kidney tumor. They can travel through lymph vessels to nearby lymph nodes. They can also spread through blood vessels to the lungs, bones, or liver. After spreading, kidney cancer cells may attach to other tissues and grow to form new tumors that may damage those tissues.