Kidney Cancer Symptoms

Kidney cancer symptoms vary among individuals. Early stages of renal cell carcinoma are usually asymptomatic, meaning that no symptoms are present yet. Kidney cancer symptoms develop as the disease progresses.

Explaining the Classic Triad

Three conditions make up the “classic triad” of kidney cancer. Hematuria is the most common. Hematuria is the presence of blood in the urine. Often, the blood can be seen with the naked eye (a condition called gross hematuria). Blood may also be present in microscopic amounts, detectable only by urinalysis. Hematuria occurs in sixty percent of patients.

Pain is a symptom in forty percent of cases. The pain is felt in the lower back, just below the ribs, and is constant. Finally, in thirty to forty percent of cases, a palpable mass may be detected during a routine physical examination of the kidneys.

Although the combination of hematuria, pain and a palpable mass is referred to as the classic triad, in reality only ten percent of patients present with all three conditions. The presence of the classic triad usually indicates a well advanced tumor.

Other Symptoms

Other symptoms of renal cell carcinoma often appear when the disease is more advanced, but no single individual experiences all possible RCC symptoms. Anemia, or a lack of red blood cells, may occur. Weight loss, fatigue, fevers and night sweats are also common. Men may experience varicocele: varicose veins that affect the testes.

RCC may lead to paraneoplastic syndromes. Paraneoplastic complications are hormonal conditions caused by the effects of the tumor on the body. Possible paraneoplastic complications include hypertension (high blood pressure), hypercalcemia and polycythemia.

Erythropoietin and Polycythemia

Some RCC tumors produce excessive amounts of erythropoietin, a hormone that stimulates the production of red blood cells. Excessive amounts of erythropoietin lead to polycythemia, an overabundance of red blood cells. Polycythemia may cause headaches, dizziness, vein inflammation, breathing difficulties, itchiness, and a feeling of abdominal fullness. Patients may also experience unusual redness of the skin, especially in facial skin.

Parathyroid Hormone and Hypercalcemia

RCC tumors can also produce parathyroid hormone, a hormone usually produced by the parathyroid gland. Too much parathyroid hormone production can lead to hypercalcemia, an excessive amount of calcium in the blood. Hypercalcemia may present asymptomatically. If symptoms do occur, they can include the following:

  • tiredness
  • a lack of appetite
  • pain
  • frequent urination
  • thirst
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • difficulty thinking
  • constipation.


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