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What are the symptoms?

Most people with kidney cancer have no symptoms and many are diagnosed with the disease when they see a doctor for an unrelated reason. Symptoms can include:

  • blood in the urine (haematuria) or change in urine colour – can be dark, rusty or brown
  • pain in the lower back or side not caused by injury
  • a lump in the abdomen
  • constant tiredness
  • unexplained weight loss
  • fever (not caused by a cold or flu).

Cancer can affect the amount of hormones produced by the kidneys, and this may lead to a low red blood cell count (anaemia), a high red blood cell count polycythaemia) or high levels of calcium in the blood (hypercalcaemia). Sometimes these problems can cause symptoms such as fatigue, dizziness, headaches, constipation, abdominal pain and depression.

The symptoms listed above can also occur with other illnesses, so they don’t necessarily mean you have kidney cancer – only testing can confirm a diagnosis. If you are concerned, make an appointment with your general practitioner (GP). 

Which health professionals will I see?

Your GP will arrange the first tests to assess your symptoms. If these tests do not rule out cancer, you will usually be referred to a specialist such as a urologist. The specialist will arrange further tests. If kidney cancer is diagnosed, the specialist will consider treatment options. Often these will be discussed with other
health professionals at what is known as a multidisciplinary team (MDT) meeting. During and after treatment, you will see a range of health professionals who specialise in different aspects of your care.

GPassists you with treatment decisions and works in partnership with your specialists in providing ongoing care
urologisttreats diseases of the male and female urinary systems, and the male reproductive system; performs surgery
nephrologistdiagnoses and treats conditions that cause kidney (renal) failure or impairment; may be consulted by your urologist when planning surgery
medical oncologisttreats cancer with drug therapies such as chemotherapy, targeted therapy and immunotherapy (systemic treatment)
radiation oncologisttreats cancer by prescribing and overseeing a course of radiation therapy
radiologistanalyses x-rays and scans; an interventional radiologist may also perform a biopsy under ultrasound or CT, and deliver some treatments
nurseadministers drugs and provides care, information and support throughout treatment
cancer care coordinatorcoordinates your care, liaises with other members of the team, and supports you and your family throughout treatment; care may also be coordinated by a clinical nurse consultant (CNC) or clinical nurse specialist (CNS)
social workerlinks you to support services and helps you with emotional, practical and financial issues
physiotherapist, exercise physiologisthelp restore movement and mobility, and improve fitness and wellbeing
occupational therapistassists in adapting your living and working environment to help you resume usual activities after treatment
dietitianrecommends an eating plan to follow during treatment and recovery
psychiatrist, psychologist, counsellorhelp you manage your emotional response to diagnosis and treatment
palliative care specialist and nurseswork closely with the GP and cancer team to help control symptoms and maintain your quality of life

This information is reviewed by

This information was last reviewed November 2020 by the following expert content reviewers: A/Prof Daniel Moon, Urologic Surgeon, Australian Urology Associates, and Honorary Clinical Associate Professor, The University of Melbourne, VIC; Polly Baldwin, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council SA; Ian Basey, Consumer; Gregory Bock, Urology Cancer Nurse Coordinator, WA Cancer and Palliative Care Network, North Metropolitan Health Service, WA; Tina Forshaw, Advanced Practice Nurse Urology, Canberra Health Services, ACT; Dr Suki Gill, Radiation Oncologist, Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital, WA; Karen Walsh, Nurse Practitioner, Urology Services, St Vincents Private Hospital Northside, QLD; Dr Alison Zhang, Medical Oncologist, Chris O’Brien Lifehouse and Macquarie University Hospital, NSW.