Icon - Types of kidney cancer

Types of kidney cancer

Kidney cancer can be subdivided into several different types, based on the appearance of the cancer cells under a microscope as well as other genetic factors.

The type of kidney cancer is not usually important with regard to surgery, but can be very important if more treatment is needed.

Different levels of aggressiveness of each patient’s cancer can also be described within each type of kidney cancer. This helps doctors to understand the cancer and plan follow-up care.

The main subtypes of kidney cancer are:

Clear cell carcinoma – This is the most common form of renal cell carcinoma, accounting for about 75 per cent of people with kidney cancer. When viewed under a microscope, the individual cells that make up clear cell renal cell carcinoma appear empty or clear.

Papillary cell carcinoma – About 10 to 15 per cent of people have this form of kidney cancer. It forms little finger-like fronds called papillae, hence the name ‘papillary’.

Chromophobe carcinoma – This cancer accounts for about 5 per cent of cases. The cells are large and pale and have certain other distinctive features.

Translocation carcinoma – This type of kidney cancer occurs more often in children or young adults. In some cases it can occur in people who have previously received chemotherapy for malignancy, bone marrow transplant preparation or autoimmune disorders.

Sarcomatoid carcinoma – Several of the other subtypes of kidney cancer can turn into sarcomatoid kidney carcinoma. The appearance of the cancer cells under the microscope is more aggressive and disorganised.

Urothelial carcinoma (also called transitional cell carcinomas or TCC) – This cancer can form in the kidney from the lining of the drainage system of the kidney, rather than the cells of the kidney itself. It is very similar to bladder cancer.

Wilms tumours and other childhood kidney cancers - Information on Wilms tumour and other childhood kidney cancers can be found on the Rare Cancers Australia website.

Go to our Kidney Cancer Support and Information Pack for more resources.

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