What Are the Most Common Symptoms of Kidney Cancer?

by Rachel Zohn Health Writer

Kidney cancer is often difficult to detect in its early stages. There are no routine screening tests to detect the cancer type, and many symptoms may mimic another disease or even a benign condition. But if you find that you have any of the common symptoms discussed here, it’s time to check with your doctor to evaluate what’s going on.

Kidneys highlighted in body.

All about kidneys and kidney cancer

The kidneys are fist-sized, bean-shaped organs that help remove waste from your blood, maintain fluid balance in the body, control blood pressure, and produce hormones needed to make blood and maintain strong bones. There are many different types of kidney cancers, or renal carcinomas. About 90 percent are caused by renal cell cancer (RCC), which also has a handful of subtypes.

Doctor holding bloody urine sample.

Seeing blood in urine

Finding blood in your urine, also known as hematuria, is often the first symptom of kidney cancer. Although it's usually painless, if you find blood in your urine, you should see a doctor right away. This may also be a symptom of other common conditions, including bladder or urinary tract infection or kidney stones, or it may be a sign of prostate problems in men. Hematuria can look pink, rusty, or dark red, and is sometimes even cola-colored.

Man grabbing side of lower back in pain.

Experiencing pain on one side of lower back

Take note of any lower back or side aches that aren’t caused by an injury and are focused on one side of the body. Back pain is common for many people, and is often due to an injury or a disk or spine problem. Kidney cancer can be discovered as part of a physical examination for other problems, such as during an ultrasound, CAT scan, or MRI on a nearby area of the body.

Feet on bathroom scale.

Undergoing rapid weight loss and lack of appetite

Quickly dropping pounds without dieting is a symptom you should not ignore. An unexplained weight loss of 10 pounds or more may be a sign of cancer, including kidney cancer. Kidneys help with digestion and metabolism, so if something is wrong with your kidneys, you may suddenly find you're experiencing a lack of appetite or unexpected weight loss.

Man looking at thermometer surprised.

Experiencing persistent, unexplained fever

A fever that’s not from an illness and doesn’t go away, or comes and goes intermittently, may seem like a vague symptom, but it can be a serious warning sign. It may be an indicator of kidney cancer or blood cancers such as leukemia or lymphoma. Often this manifests as a low-grade fever, and for some it results in night sweats.

Man checking lower back for lumps.

Finding a mass or lump

Finding a mass, lump, or swelling in your back, side, or abdomen may be a sign of a tumor in that area. The mass may feel hard or like a bump under the skin. Often the first thing a doctor will look for during a physical examination for renal cancer is swelling or a lump in the area around your kidneys.

Fatigued man not working.

Feeling exhausted

Fatigue is a common symptom of many different conditions and diseases, including cancers of all types. Fatigue related to kidney cancer goes beyond a few days of feeling drained or worn out, and is usually an overall feeling of poor health and exhaustion. It may be a debilitating tiredness that interferes with daily life. People with kidney cancer often no longer feel up for tackling everyday activities, or they must rest frequently.

Blood vial for anemia blood test.

Experiencing anemia

Anemia is another common symptom associated with kidney cancer. The condition can also cause fatigue, as well as shortness of breath; dizziness, or lightheadedness; and inability to concentrate; difficulty staying warm; and skin tone changes. Anemia is the result of not having enough red blood cells, a process which kidney cancer may interfere with.

Nurse checking patients blood pressure.

Learning of a rise in blood pressure

Having high blood pressure, also known as hypertension, has been linked to an increased risk of kidney cancer, but is also considered a symptom of the cancer itself. A tumor may cause the kidney to produce abnormal amounts of certain hormones, which may result in high blood pressure.

Swelling ankle.

Swelling of ankles or legs

Fluid retention, or edema, happens when water builds up in the body’s tissues. This can happen for a number of reasons, including a person experiencing kidney problems or kidney failure. Edema may be a symptom of cancer in the kidney, liver, or ovaries. Sometimes kidney cancer can cause swelling elsewhere, such as in the abdomen, which makes the belly feel hard and bloated.

Blood test vial labeled for calcium test.

Finding high levels of calcium in the blood

A kidney tumor may affect the body’s ability to remove excess calcium from the blood, resulting in high calcium levels, or hypercalcemia. This in turn can lead to increased thirst; feeling sick, or tired; and constipation. Another symptom men should be aware of is a cluster of enlarged veins, called a varicocele, around a testicle (often the right testicle).

Patient talking to oncologist.

Seek medical care if you are concerned

Kidney cancer symptoms are often not painful or noticeable and may be easy to overlook. But if you find you experience any of the symptoms described here, don’t ignore them. Take action and seek medical care.

Rachel Zohn
Meet Our Writer
Rachel Zohn

Rachel Zohn is a mom, a wife, and a freelance writer who is striving to find the best way to juggle it all and maintain a sense of humor. She is a former newspaper reporter with a deep interest in writing about all things related to health, wellness and the human body. She enjoys writing about various health topics, including skin conditions such as eczema, different types of cancer and seasonal allergies.