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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. If symptoms occur, they usually include:

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

Cancer can affect the amount of hormones produced by the kidneys. If this affects blood production, it can 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 (belly) 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
urologistdiagnoses and treats diseases of the urinary system, 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 your treatment
cancer care coordinatorcoordinates your care, liaises with other members of the MDT, 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
dietitianhelps with nutrition concerns and recommends changes to diet 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 quality of life

Featured resource

Understanding Kidney Cancer

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This information is reviewed by

This information was last reviewed November 2022 by the following expert content reviewers: Dr Alarick Picardo, Urologist, Fiona Stanley Hospital, WA; Heidi Castleden, Consumer; Donna Clifford, Urology Nurse Practitioner, Royal Adelaide Hospital, SA; Mike Kingsley, Consumer; Prof Paul De Souza, Medical Oncologist and Professor of Medicine, Nepean Cancer Care Centre, The University of Sydney, NSW; Prof Declan Murphy, Urologist and Director of Genitourinary Oncology, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; Caitriona Nienaber, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council WA; Luke O’Connor, Urology Nurse, Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital, QLD; A/Prof Shankar Siva, Radiation Oncologist and Cancer Council Victoria Colebatch Fellow, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; A/Prof Homi Zargar, Uro‑Oncologist and Robotic Surgeon, Western Health and Royal Melbourne Hospital, VIC.