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Understanding the Disease

Advanced Kidney Cancer

Advanced kidney cancer occurs when cancer cells in the kidneys spread to other parts of the body. To understand the causes of advanced kidney cancer, it may be helpful to understand the role of your kidneys.

Understanding the role of your kidneys

The kidneys are a filtering system in your body. The kidneys filter waste and extra water from your blood. The filtered, clean blood leaves the kidney and circulates in your body. The waste products and extra water are removed in urine.

Understanding how a tumor starts to grow

Like the rest of your body, your kidneys are made from cells. Cells divide to make new cells when needed. They stop dividing when there are enough cells. But sometimes cells do not stop dividing.


When this happens, the extra cells may form growths called tumors. There are 2 types of tumors:

  • Benign tumor­—a growth that is not cancer. This tumor type does not spread in the body
  • Malignant tumor—a cancerous growth that can spread throughout the body. Malignant tumors can grow back even after they are removed during surgery

What are the causes of kidney cancer?

All of the cells in your body contain genes. Genes contain the instructions that tell cells what to do. Cells may become cancerous when something changes, or mutates, those instructions. This mutation causes the cells to keep dividing, making more and more cancer cells.


If you have advanced kidney cancer, cancer cells from your kidneys have spread through your body and formed tumors in other places.


Unlike some other diseases, there is no one cause of advanced kidney cancer. Researchers think that genetic factors, like your family history, may increase your risk of developing kidney cancer. They also think that nongenetic factors, such as smoking and obesity, may be involved. Scientists have studied advanced kidney cancer for years. Still, they do not fully know how it occurs. Continuing research may provide answers.

What are the risk factors for kidney cancer?

Knowing some of the risks of kidney cancer, or renal cell carcinoma (the most common type of kidney cancer), is an important way to be proactive about your health. Risk factors include:

  • Age: As a person gets older, the risk of renal cell carcinoma increases. This disease occurs mostly in people older than 55 years of age
  • Gender: Men are more likely than women to develop renal cell carcinoma
  • Smoking: People who smoke have a higher risk. The good news is that quitting smoking can reduce your risk
  • Obesity: People who are overweight have an increased risk of renal cell carcinoma
  • High blood pressure: Although the reason is unclear, high blood pressure seems to increase the risk of renal cell carcinoma
  • Chemical exposure in the workplace: People who work with certain chemicals (such as asbestos, cadmium, and trichloroethylene) may have an increased risk of renal cell carcinoma
  • Treatment for kidney failure: People who have been treated with long-term dialysis for chronic kidney failure have a higher risk of renal cell carcinoma. People who have had a kidney transplant and take immunosuppressant medication may have an increased risk as well
  • Genetic factors: Certain inherited disorders make a person more likely to develop one or more types of renal cell carcinomas

It is estimated that almost 64,000 people in the United States will be diagnosed with kidney cancer in 2017. As of November 2016, there are more than 200,000 kidney cancer survivors living in the United States.