Understanding Kidney Cancer

Kidney cancer is a collective term for various cancers of the kidney. The most common is renal cell carcinoma.

12. April 2022

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Every year, around 1000 people in Switzerland are newly diagnosed with kidney cancer. About two thirds of them are men. Almost half of the patients are over 70 years old at the time of diagnosis. Renal cell carcinoma (RCC) is by far the most common type of kidney cancer, accounting for about 90% of all kidney cancer cases. It is typically diagnosed by accident, for example during imaging tests for another disease, as symptoms usually only appear at an advanced stage. Most kidney tumors are discovered in their early stages. Nevertheless, around 30% of patients present with metastatic kidney cancer at the time of initial diagnosis. Of these patients, only 15% are still alive after 5 years. Thanks to recent advances in oncology, the treatment options for renal cell carcinoma have changed significantly. Today several treatment options are available to increase the survival rate of these patients.

Incidence of kidney cancer


In Switzerland, around 700 men and 300 women are newly diagnosed with kidney cancer and about 300 people die of it every year.


Worldwide, more than 430’000 new cases of kidney cancer were diagnosed and nearly 180’000 people died of it in 2020.

Signs and symptoms

Early kidney cancers usually do not cause any signs or symptoms, but larger ones might.

Some possible signs and symptoms of kidney cancer include:

  • blood in the urine
  • low back pain on one side (not caused by injury)
  • a mass (lump) on the side or lower back
  • fatigue
  • loss of appetite
  • weight loss not caused by dieting
  • fever that is not caused by an infection and that doesn’t go away
  • anemia (low red blood cell counts).

Risk Factors

Multiple risk factors for RCC have been identified. It is believed that several factors are jointly responsible for the development of kidney cancer. Smoking and obesity are considered to be possible main risk factors.

Other risk factors include:

  • high blood pressure
  • family history of kidney cancer
  • workplace exposures: many studies have suggested that workplace exposure to certain substances, such as trichloroethylene , increases the risk for RCC.
  • gender (men are more likely affected than women)
  • certain medicines: some studies have suggested that acetaminophen, a common pain medicine, may be linked to an increase in the risk of RCC.
  • genetic and hereditary risk factors


In many cases, the cause of kidney cancer is not known. In some other cases (such as with inherited conditions), even when the cause is known it may not be preventable. You may reduce the risk for developing kidney cancer by stopping to smoke and maintaining a healthy body weight.

CH-NON-00633, 04/2022