Kidney cancer is the seventh most common cancer in the UK for adults, but few people are aware of the symptoms.
This means many people don’t get diagnosed until later stages of the disease, despite some of the signs being easy to spot.
Who’s at risk of developing kidney cancer?
Over 40 years old? You’re more at risk of kidney cancer, especially if you smoke, are overweight, have a family history of the condition and/or have high blood pressure.
Signs of kidney cancer
There are five main signs of kidny cancer. If you spot any of these signs you should always see your GP to rule out a serious health condition:
1. Urine changing colour
“One of the most common symptoms of kidney cancer is blood in the urine,” says Dr Ekaterini Boleti, Consultant Medical Oncologist at the Royal Free London NHS Foundation Trust in London on behalf of Kidney Cancer UK.
The trouble is, it’s not always obvious. “It’s not always easy to spot,” says Dr Boleti. “Your urine may not be red, but pink or even brown instead,” And that’s if the blood shows up at all. “It may be inconsistent, appearing about every other day. For some people, the amount of blood in the urine will be so small that it cannot be detected by the human eye. You should always see a doctor if you spot blood in your urine.”
“Fatigue is a common symptom of any number of cancers,” says Dr Boleti. But telling the difference between fatigue and general weariness is often tricky. “Busy lives and hectic schedules can cause anyone to feel tired, but cancer fatigue is different from just a lack of sleep. Cancer-related fatigue is persistent and interferes with daily activities. It also tends to intensify as time goes on,” says Dr Boleti.
If you also have shortness of breath, dizziness, and pale-looking skin, you may have anaemia, another a common symptom of kidney cancer. “Many people will experience a low red blood cell count, which can also lead to fatigue,” explains Dr Boleti. “Normally functioning kidneys signal to your body to make red blood cells. However, cancer can interfere with this signalling.”
3. Unexplained weight loss
“Unexplained weight loss is another key characteristic of nearly all cancers – so it’s definitely a symptom to look out for,” urges Dr Boleti. “You may also suddenly lose interest in eating, which can contribute to this.”
4. Lower back pain
“Back pain is one of the country’s most common issues and there are lots of different reasons why you may be experiencing it,” says Dr Boleti. “A less common cause is kidney cancer, but it’s always worth having back pain checked out. This will rule out an underlying problem, such as cancer or a mass, and get the right treatment for your symptoms.”
Pain can be felt in different areas. “It could be a dull ache to a sharp stab on one side of your flank or below the ribs on your back. The flank is the area between your lower back and the bottom of the backside of your ribs. This may also feel like side pain,” says Dr Boleti. “If you experience any sudden pain that is persistent and lasts more than a few days, then visit a doctor.”
5. A lump in the abdomen
“Some people with kidney cancer notice a lump or a mass in the abdomen, side or back. This can feel like a hard, thickening or bulging bump under the skin,” says Dr Boleti. “However, kidney lumps can be hard to feel, especially in the early stages. This is because the kidneys sit deep in the abdomen. If a lump is discovered, your doctor will likely order diagnostic tests (usually an ultrasound or a CT Scan). These tests may help to determine the cause of the lump, but in most cases a biopsy will be required to confirm diagnosis. Remember, not all lumps are cancer, but always see a doctor about a new lump anywhere in or on your body.”