Kidney Cancer: Symptoms and Signs

This section has been reviewed and approved by the Cancer.Net Editorial Board, 06/2014

ON THIS PAGE: You will find out more about body changes and other things that can signal a problem that may need medical care. To see other pages, use the menu on the side of your screen.

Often, kidney cancer is found when a person has an x-ray or ultrasound (see the Diagnosis section) for another reason. In its earliest stages, kidney cancer causes no pain. Therefore, symptoms of the disease usually appear when the tumor is large and begins to affect nearby organs.

People with kidney cancer may experience the following symptoms or signs. Sometimes, people with kidney cancer do not show any of these symptoms. Or, these symptoms may be caused by a medical condition that is not cancer.           

  • Blood in the urine
  • Pain or pressure in the side or back
  • A mass or lump in the side or back
  • Swelling of the ankles and legs
  • High blood pressure or anemia (low red blood cell count)
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of appetite
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Recurrent fever that is not from cold, flu, or other infection
  • For men, a rapid development of a cluster of enlarged veins, known as a varicocele, around a testicle

If you are concerned about one or more of the symptoms or signs on this list, please talk with your doctor. Your doctor will ask how long and how often you’ve been experiencing the symptom(s), in addition to other questions. This is to help find out the cause of the problem, called a diagnosis.

If cancer is diagnosed, relieving symptoms remains an important part of cancer care and treatment. This may also be called symptom management, palliative care, or supportive care. Be sure to talk with your health care team about symptoms you experience, including any new symptoms or a change in symptoms.

Screening for kidney cancer

Routine screening tests to detect kidney cancer early are not available. Doctors may recommend that people with a high risk of the disease have imaging tests (see the Diagnosis section) to look inside the body. For people with a family history of kidney cancer, CT scans are sometimes used to search for early-stage kidney cancer. However, CT scans have not been proven to be a useful screening tool for kidney cancer for most people.

The next section helps explain what tests and scans may be needed to learn more about the cause of the symptoms. Use the menu on the side of your screen to select Diagnosis, or you can select another section, to continue reading this guide.