Kidney cancer: We’re here for you

At the UW Health | Carbone Cancer Center, we provide specialty care for kidney cancer. Our kidney cancer team diagnoses your specific type of kidney cancer. Then we create a complete cancer treatment plan that meets your needs and improves your quality of life.

Types and risk factors

Types of kidney cancer and noncancerous kidney tumors

Renal cell carcinoma is the most common type of kidney cancer. There are several types of renal cell cancer. Common types include:

  • Clear cell

  • Chromophobe

  • Collecting duct RCC

  • Papillary

Other kidney cancers we treat include:

  • Renal sarcoma

  • Transitional cell (urothelial) carcinoma

  • Wilm's tumor

Noncancerous kidney tumors that may need treatment include:

  • Angiomyolipoma

  • Oncocytoma

Risk factors for renal cell carcinoma 

The most common risk factor for renal cell carcinoma is smoking. Some genetic syndromes also are associated with renal cell carcinoma. The most common is von Hippel-Lindau disease. This condition affects the capillaries of the brain, eyes and other parts of the body. If you have von Hippel-Lindau disease, you should get screened for kidney tumors.

Symptoms and diagnosis

How we diagnose a kidney tumor

You might not feel symptoms of kidney cancer or even know you have a tumor. Many kidney tumors do not cause symptoms until they grow quite large. Most kidney tumors are found during imaging tests for another condition.

Kidney tumors can cause:

  • Blood in your urine

  • Fatigue

  • Fevers

  • Low back pain

  • Mass or lump on one side of your back

  • Pain

  • Pressure on one side of your back

  • Weight loss

Your doctor will use a few tests to determine whether you have a kidney tumor and check for signs of cancer. These tests include biopsies as well as blood, urine and imaging tests.

Kidney cancer staging

If you have a kidney cancer diagnosis, your doctor will check the cancer’s stage of development. A CT or MRI scan can show how a tumor is growing.

Kidney cancer stages include:

The tumor is 7 centimeters or smaller and has not spread beyond the kidney.

The tumor is larger than 7 centimeters and has not spread beyond the kidney.

The tumor can be small or large. The cancer has spread to either one nearby lymph node, the fatty tissue around the kidney or the large veins leading from the kidney to the heart. The cancer has not spread to other lymph nodes or organs.

The cancer has spread into the fatty tissue that surrounds the kidney. The cancer is found in more than one lymph node near the kidney, in any lymph node not near the kidney or in other organs.

Treatments and research

Managing and treating kidney cancer

Your kidney cancer treatment might include a combination of systemic treatments (similar to chemotherapy), nutrition therapy, radiation and surgery.

If you have stage III or stage IV cancer, members of our medical and urologic oncology teams review your care. Our teams meet weekly to discuss the best approach for each patient with advanced kidney cancer. 

Our treatment approaches focus on a personalized approach to treatment and may include:

  • Active surveillance: We monitor small kidney tumors for growth and changes. 

  • Multimodal treatment: We provide surgery along with other treatments for advanced kidney cancer.

  • Complex surgery: We perform surgery for advanced kidney cancer that has spread to lymph nodes or blood vessels.

Your care team talks with you about your specific treatment options. These include:

  • Alternative therapy

  • Partial kidney removal (partial nephrectomy) 

  • Complete kidney removal (radical nephrectomy)

  • Tumor ablation using microwave ablation or cryotherapy

  • Immunotherapy

Systemic-targeted therapies

Our kidney cancer team uses minimally invasive surgery or robotic-assisted surgery for kidney tumor removal and complete kidney removal. Your care team provides follow-up care to ensure your health after your surgery.

Improving your care with research

At the UW Health | Carbone Cancer Center, our kidney cancer team takes part in clinical trials and research. This gives you the option to try the newest treatments available. One of our kidney cancer clinical trials uses a combination of microwave ablation with radiation therapy. Learn more about our clinical trials.

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UW Health | Carbone Cancer Center
Patient Guide

To help you feel comfortable during your stay at the UW Health | Carbone Cancer Center, we invite you to learn about our facility and the services we offer.

Meet our team

Specialty kidney cancer care

The UW Health | Carbone Cancer Center kidney cancer team includes experts in urologic oncology (surgery), medical oncology, alternative therapy, nutrition, radiation oncology and other experts to provide innovative and effective treatment.

Medical oncology


Care close to home

The UW Health | Carbone Cancer Center provides care throughout Wisconsin and northern Illinois. Not all cancers are treated at every location; however, we will make every effort to connect you with care at a location convenient to you.