Like many forms of cancer, kidney cancer (renal cell carcinoma) can potentially spread to other parts of the body, such as lymph nodes, bones and other organs. When this occurs, the condition is known as metastatic renal cell carcinoma. Patients with a personal history of kidney cancer in one kidney are at slightly higher risk of development of kidney cancer in their other kidney, but the absolute risk for this is relatively small.
How does kidney cancer spread?
The likelihood that kidney cancer will spread to other organs and tissues depends on the size and histology, as well as other individual factors. Tumors that are large or fast-growing tend to be more likely to spread to other parts of the body.
In general, cancerous cells can spread from a kidney to another area of the body in one of three ways:
- By proximity – As a tumor grows, its cells can invade surrounding tissues.
- Through the lymphatic system – Cancerous cells can break away from a kidney tumor and enter the lymphatic system, which is a network of lymph nodes that are located throughout the body. The lymph nodes, which filter bodily fluids to fight off infections, can also allow cancerous cells to circulate throughout the body, ultimately accumulating and forming tumors in distant organs and tissues.
- Via the bloodstream – Cancerous cells can break away from a kidney tumor and enter the bloodstream, where they can be carried to and then deposited in distant organs and tissues.
Early evaluation and treatment are key factors in preventing kidney cancer from spreading. In the Urologic Oncology Program at Moffitt Cancer Center, our scientists and clinicians are committed to developing treatment or monitoring plans that are best suited for each patient to maximize both the quantity and quality of a patients lives. Working hand-in-hand with our oncologists, the members of our research team are continually seeking novel advances in learning about improved ways to treat and manage those affected by kidney cancer.
Medically reviewed by Jad Chahoud, MD Department of Genitourinary Oncology.