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Kidney Cancer

  • Posted: 01/19/2011

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Cancer Cells

Cancer begins in cells, the building blocks that make up tissues. Tissues make up the kidneys and the other organs of the body.

Normal cells grow and divide to form new cells as the body needs them. When normal cells grow old or get damaged, they die, and new cells take their place.

Sometimes, this process goes wrong. New cells form when the body doesn’t need them, and old or damaged cells don’t die as they should. The buildup of extra cells often forms a mass of tissue called a growth or tumor.

Tumors in the kidney can be benign (not cancer) or malignant (cancer). Benign tumors are not as harmful as malignant tumors:

  • Benign tumors (such as cysts):
    • are usually not a threat to life
    • can be treated or removed and usually don’t grow back
    • don’t invade the tissues around them
    • don’t spread to other parts of the body
  • Malignant growths:
    • may be a threat to life
    • usually can be removed but can grow back
    • can invade and damage nearby tissues and organs
    • can spread to other parts of the body

Kidney cancer cells can spread by breaking away from the kidney tumor. They can travel through lymph vessels to nearby lymph nodes. They can also spread through blood vessels to the lungs, bones, or liver. After spreading, kidney cancer cells may attach to other tissues and grow to form new tumors that may damage those tissues. See the Staging section for information about kidney cancer that has spread.

This text may be reproduced or reused freely. Please credit the National Cancer Institute as the source. Any graphics may be owned by the artist or publisher who created them, and permission may be needed for their reuse.