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Your kidneys are two bean-shaped organs, each about the size of your fist. They’re located behind your abdominal organs, one on each side of your spine. Their primary role is to help maintain the body in a state of balance by controlling the make-up and volume of blood. They do this by removing excess fluid and electrolytes from your blood. The kidney also control the production of red blood cells, and regulates your blood pressure. Inside each kidney are more than a million small filtering units called nephrons. As blood circulates through your kidneys, the nephrons filter out waste products as well as unneeded minerals and water. This liquid waste — urine — flows through two narrow tubes (ureters) into your bladder, where it’s stored until it’s eliminated from your body through another tube, the urethra. Like other major organs in the body, the kidneys can sometimes develop cancer.
The most common types of kidney cancer include:
The American Cancer Society estimates that almost 51,000 people in the United States are diagnosed with kidney cancer each year. The incidence of kidney cancer seems to be increasing, though it isn’t clear why. Many kidney cancers occur without warning and are detected only incidentally during examinations and procedures looking for diseases or conditions in other organs. Imaging techniques, such as computerized tomography (CT), are being used more often, which may help find more kidney cancers.
Kidney cancer may not cause signs or symptoms in its early stages. However, when symptoms occur there may be:
Just what causes kidney cells to become cancerous isn’t clear. But researchers have identified certain factors that appear to increase the risk of kidney cancer.