Kidney Cancer



Kidney cancer is one of the top 10 most common cancers among men and women. The average age of diagnosis is 64 years, and men are considered to be slightly more at risk than women. Renal cell carcinoma (RCC), also known as renal cell cancer or renal cell adenocarcinoma, makes up 90 percent of all diagnosed kidney cancer cases.

The kidney cancer experts at Duke Prostate and Urologic Cancer Center are members of Duke’s nationally-ranked urology and cancer programs and lead the field in screening, diagnosing and treating kidney cancer. As a top referral center for kidney cancer, we specialize in aggresive and difficult-to-treat kidney cancers. 

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Detection & Diagnosis

Finding kidney cancer early and getting an accurate diagnosis are key to your health and outcomes. If you are experiencing symptoms, please consult your physician. Based on their evaluation, further testing may be ordered that can help in diagnosing and assessing the cancer. These tests can include:

  • Blood and Urine Tests 
    • Find clues to indicate cancer, such as blood in your urine. We monitor levels of your body's byproducts that may show how your disease is progressing. We also check for conditions brought on by cancer through careful assessment of specific blood tests.
  • Bone Scan 
    • A small amount of low level radioactive material is injected into a vein to determine if cancer has spread to your bones.
  • Advanced Imaging 
    • In addition to X-rays, we may recommend a CT, MRI or ultrasound to produce high-quality images of your kidney and assess the presence and stage of kidney tumors.
  • Biopsy and Fine Needle Aspiration 
    • A long, thin needle is inserted into the kidney to remove a tiny sample of tissue for examination under a microscope for the presence of cancer.

State-of-the-Art Treatment 

At Duke Prostate and Urologic Cancer Center, our team of experts can help you identify the best treatment option for your kidney cancer. The best approach depends on the size, stage and location of your kidney cancer. Your treatment at Duke will be personalized to your particular needs. One or more of the following therapies may be recommended: 


  • Radical nephrectomy — removal of the entire kidney along with surrounding tissue. 
  • Laparoscopic radical nephrectomy (LRN) — a minimally invasive procedure using a small incision to insert a laparoscope and other minor incisions for surgical instruments to remove the kidney. 
  • Partial nephrectomy — a procedure that removes just the cancerous tumor and healthy margins of surrounding tissue, leaving the rest of the kidney in place.

Energy Ablative Techniques:

  • Radiofrequency Ablation (RFA) —  a minimally invasive procedure relying on extreme heat to kill the tumor.
  • Cryotherapy — a minimally invasive procedure utilizing extreme cold to destroy the tumor.

Radiation Therapy: 

  • Arterial Embolization — a procedure that blocks the blood supply to the tumor.
  • Radiation: not used as a frontline treatment option but may be used to help relieve pain when kidney cancer has spread to the bone, brain or other parts of the body. 

Targeted Therapies:

  • Targeted therapies — medications that block the growth of blood vessels that feed kidney tumors and may help shrink the tumor. Other medications we give block certain biological pathways that keep the tumor from growing normally. 
  • Immunotherapies – medications that stimulate the patient’s immune system to attack the cancer

*While not considered a standard treatment for kidney cancer, chemotherapy may also be used when kidney cancer doesn't respond to immunotherapy or targeted therapy.

Personalized, Multidisciplinary Care

The multidisciplinary team, including surgeons, radiation oncologists and medical oncologists, explore all options. If your kidney cancer has spread to blood vessels or other organs, our surgeons are expertly equipped to perform complex surgery, providing you with the latest treatment options to achieve the best possible outcome.

Because each patient’s cancer possesses unique characteristics that allow for a diversity of behaviors and outcomes, we take a personalized approach to determine the best therapies for each patient.


Game-Changing Research

Breaking down traditional barriers to rapid innovation, our kidney cancer specialists are leading national research efforts while developing novel treatments. Clinical research is critical to our collective mission of reducing the burden of kidney cancer, and we're committed to designing better treatments and preventive approaches.

Kidney cancer research at Duke places an emphasis on translational programs that can have direct consequences on improving patient care and surgical therapy. Together, we are moving further, faster.  

Related News: Duke Nurse Turned Cancer Survivor

Bethany Clements, 54, has been an oncology nurse at Duke Cancer Institute for the past 25 years. Clements dedicated her career to helping others battling cancer, but in May 2011 she found herself facing her own personal battle with cancer. During one evening work shift, Clements, in an ironic twist of fate, moved from nurse to patient. MORE