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Kidney Cancer Program

Phone: (310) 794-7700

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Kidney Cancer Symptoms Treatment and Diagnosis

Affiliated: Find a Doctor | Symptoms | Treatment | Diagnosis

Kidney Cancer Overview

UCLA's Kidney Cancer Program is a world-renowned kidney cancer treatment program, dedicated to providing the highest quality of patient care, research, training and education of kidney cancer for the past 21 years, and is affiliated with the Institute of Urologic Oncology and the Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center. UCLA’s Kidney Cancer Program has long utilized a pioneering multidisciplinary approach to treating kidney cancer patients that includes urologists, medical oncologists, radiation oncologists, pathologists, radiologists and clinical trial nurses that allows for specialized perspectives for deciding upon the best option for each individual patient.

Video: Innovations in Treating Bladder and Kidney Cancer

UCLA urologist, Karim Chamie, MD, MSHS, presented a live-streaming webinar to discuss new cancer treatments that do not require the unnecessary removal of the kidney or bladder. Affiliated: Bladder Cancer » | Kidney Cancer »

The UCLA Kidney Cancer Program prides itself on the achievements made in its state-of-the-art research and translational laboratory. Our highly experienced and dedicated basic science researchers work diligently to develop new, more effective treatments for kidney cancer and have pioneered numerous medical advances.
Kidney Cancer Program Achievements »

For decades, UCLA’s Kidney Cancer Program has prided itself on being able to offer patients access to ground-breaking experimental drugs in its Clinical Trials Program that allows patients to receive tomorrow’s approved drugs today. Until such time as a cure for this disease is found, the primary objective is focused on providing first-rate care for our patients, while making it possible for them to carry on a high quality of life.

Figure 1
Figure 1 - The kidneys produce urine, which drains through narrow tubes
Figure 2
Figure 2 - The kidneys are located toward the back of the flank
Figure 3
Figure 3 - The kidney is contained within a fibrous layer


About Kidney Cancer
According to the American Cancer Society, an estimated 58,240 people in the United States will be diagnosed with kidney cancer (35,370 men and 22,870 women) and about 13,040 people will die from this disease. As with all cancers, early diagnosis of kidney cancer dramatically improves the chance for survival. Although the prognosis is relatively poor for kidney cancer that is advanced (metastasized), promising new treatments for kidney cancer are improving the outlook for patients.

Kidney Anatomy

Most people have two kidneys.

  • The kidneys produce urine, which drains through narrow tubes (called ureters) into the urinary bladder (Figure 1).
  • The kidneys are located toward the back of the flank, with one kidney on either side (Figure 2).
  • The kidney is contained within a fibrous layer called Gerota's Fascia (Figure 3).

Within this fascia is a layer of fat that surrounds the kidney. The kidney has a thin outer capsule (analogous to the red external layer of an apple). The primary vein that drains the kidney (renal vein) merges with the vein that takes blood to the heart (vena cava). The term "renal" means pertaining to the kidney.

Kidney Function

The main function of the kidneys is to produce urine. However, the kidney accomplishes many other important functions during urine production. By adjusting the composition of the urine, the kidney regulates the body's electrolytes (e.g. sodium, potassium, calcium, magnesium, etc.), regulates the body's fluid balance, regulates the body's acid-base balance and eliminates certain waste products made by the body.

When the kidneys are damaged or a significant portion of kidney tissue is removed, its normal processes may be impaired. In most cases, mild to moderate impairment causes very minor problems. In cases when kidney function is severely impaired, dialysis may be required.
Treatment Options »

Types of Kidney Cancer

Renal Kidney Cancer
Renal Cell Carcinoma (RCC) is the most common type of kidney cancer, accounting for approximately 85% of all malignant kidney tumors. In RCC, cancerous (malignant) cells develop in the lining of the kidney tubules and grow into a mass called a tumor. Like many other cancers, the growth begins small and grows larger over time. RCC typically grows as a single mass. However, there are cases where a kidney may contain more than one tumor, or tumors are found in both kidneys at the same time.

Sub-Types of Renal Cell Carcinoma (RCC):
There are five main sub-types of renal cell carcinoma that are identified by examining the tumor under a microscope: clear cell, papillary, chromophobe, collecting duct and "unclassified."
More about sub-types of renal cell carcinoma (RCC) »

Other Types of Cancerous Kidney Tumors

RCC accounts for about 90% of malignant kidney tumors. Less common types of cancerous tumors include transitional cell carcinomas, Wilms tumors and renal sarcomas.
About transitional cell carcinoma and benign kidney tumors »

Incidence – Risk Factors

  Renal and Adrenal Tumors Biology and Management

Renal and Adrenal Tumors Biology and Management
Edited by Arie Belldegrun, MD, FACS, Alastair WS Ritchie, et al.
2003 Oxford University Press

Studies have shown that certain lifestyle, environmental and heredity factors increase the risk of developing renal tumors. Although we do not know all the causes of kidney cancer, the following factors may increase the risk of developing this disease:

  • Age. The risk of kidney cancer significantly increases with age, most kidney cancers occur in people over 45 years of age; with the highest incidences between the ages of 55 and 84.
  • Gender. Men are twice as likely to develop kidney cancer as women.
  • Race. African American men have a slightly higher risk than Caucasian men of developing renal cell carcinoma.
  • Smoking. Smokers are at greater risk than nonsmokers. The risk increases the longer you smoke and decreases after you quit, although it takes years to reach the same risk level as someone who has never smoked.
  • Obesity. Studies have found a strong link between excess weight (in both men and women) and renal cell carcinoma.
  • High blood pressure (hypertension). Having high blood pressure increases the risk of developing renal cell carcinoma. The risk is even greater if you are also overweight.
  • Dialysis. People who receive long-term dialysis for treatment of chronic renal failure are at greater risk of developing kidney cancer, possibly because renal failure depresses the immune system. People who have a kidney transplant and receive immunosuppressant drugs also are more likely to develop kidney cancer.
  • Radiation. In some cases, exposure to radiation may increase your risk of kidney cancer.
  • Heredity. Tuberous sclerosis (a disease characterized by several bumps on the skin, seizures, mental retardation, and cysts in the kidneys, liver and pancreas) and von Hippel-Lindau disease (a disease caused by a genetic mutation that leads to multiple tumors in the kidney, often at an early age) are both associated with an increased risk of developing kidney tumors. Most often in tuberous sclerosis the tumors are benign. However, in von Hippel-Lindau disease, the tumors are usually malignant.

At UCLA Urology, Our Kidney Cancer Mission is You

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Unfortunately, cancer runs in Barbara Pytlewski’s family. Years ago, she and her brother learned they have Lynch syndrome, a hereditary condition associated with a high risk of developing colon cancer, as well as an increased likelihood of urinary tract, uterine and liver cancers.

The Department of Urology at UCLA is one of the most progressive and comprehensive urology programs in the country. Our faculty members work side by side with research scientists for new cures and treatments for kidney cancer.

Our goal is to provide you with fast, easy access to the physicians and services at UCLA. For assistance in determining which UCLA urologist(s) may have expertise to help you, please call the Urology Appointment phone number:

Phone: (310) 794-7700

View a patient story » Meet kidney cancer doctors » Request an Appointment »
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