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Renal cell carcinoma



Renal system


Renal and ureteral disorders
Bladder and urethral disorders
Renal system pathology review

Renal cell carcinoma


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High Yield Notes
9 pages

Renal cell carcinoma

17 flashcards

USMLE® Step 1 style questions USMLE

2 questions

A 52-year-old man comes to the clinic because of vague right-sided back pain over the past two months. He denies any recent trauma, heavy lifting, or new activity. The patient has also noticed a 4.2 kg weight loss during this time, despite not making any changes to diet or activity. The patient has a 20 pack-year smoking history. The patient’s temperature is 37.8°C (100°F), pulse is 75/min, and blood pressure is 128/85 mm Hg. Physical examination shows no abnormalities. The results of his urinalysis are shown below:  

Laboratory value   Result 
 Erythrocytes  60/hpf 
 Leukocytes  4/hpf 
 Bacteria  None 
Which of the following is a possible complication of this patient's condition?  

External References

Content Reviewers:

Rishi Desai, MD, MPH

Renal cell carcinomas (or RCC’s) are the most common type of malignant kidney cancer in adults, generally affecting older men.

Unfortunately, RCC is often considered a “silent” cancer because symptoms don’t typically get noticed until the tumor has grown pretty large.

Renal cell carcinomas form from epithelial cells in the proximal convoluted tubule of the kidney; this is the section of the nephron that is usually located in the renal cortex—the outer rim of the kidney.

The most common type of renal cell carcinoma is composed of polygonal epithelial cells, which have funny angular shapes with at least four sides and are filled with clear cytoplasm full of carbohydrates and lipids. It’s those lipids that give the tumors their yellow color.

At a genetic level, renal cell carcinomas have been linked to mutations on the short arm of chromosome 3, or 3p. An easy way to remember this is that RCC has three letters and it’s linked to chromosome 3.

One of the main genes involved in renal cell carcinomas is the VHL gene, which codes for the von Hippel-Lindau tumor suppressor protein, or pVHL which is normally expressed in all tissues.

Mutations in pVHL can allow IGF-1, the type 1 insulin-like growth factor, pathway to go into overdrive. This does two things.

First, there is dysregulated cell growth, and second it upregulates specific transcription factors called hypoxia-inducible factors, which in turn help generate more vascular endothelial growth factor or VEGF, as well as VEGF receptor, leading to growth of new blood vessels, or angiogenesis. Dysregulated cellular growth and angiogenesis are a recipe for tumor formation.

Renal cell carcinomas can arise sporadically or they can be a part of an inherited syndrome. Sporadic tumors are usually solitary tumors in the upper pole of the kidney, and most often happen among older men that smoke cigarettes.

Inherited syndromes, like von Hippel-Lindau disease, can also give rise to renal cell carcinomas, and in this situation the tumors typically affect younger men and women and often involve both kidneys.

Von Hippel Lindau disease is a rare autosomal dominant disorder characterized by a mutation in a tumor suppressor gene which leads to the formation of cysts and benign tumors in various parts of the body like the eye and central nervous system.

The number one cause of death in patients with von Hippel-Lindau disease, though, is the development of renal cell carcinomas.

Individuals with renal cell carcinoma typically have one or more of the following symptoms: hematuria, or red blood cells in the urine, which is most common, a palpable mass in the abdomen or lower back, and pain in the flank or near the hip bone.

Since the cancer causes a state of chronic inflammation, other classic symptoms include fever and weight loss.

Renal cell carcinoma is also frequently responsible for causing various paraneoplastic syndromes, which is where the tumor cells generate a hormone that causes it’s own set of symptoms.

For example, these tumors can release the hormone erythropoietin which increases the production of new red blood cells, and this can lead to polycythemia or too many red blood cells, which can cause the blood to start sludging or slow down its normal flow.

Another paraneoplastic syndrome involves the release of renin a hormone that is part of the renin-angiotensin-aldosterone system and is involved in raising blood pressure.


Renal cell carcinoma (RCC) is a type of kidney cancer that originates in epithelial cells in the proximal convoluted tubule of the kidney. RCCs are the most common type of malignant kidney cancer in adults, generally affecting older men. RCCs can arise sporadically or as part of a genetic condition like von Hippel-Lindau's disease. Symptoms may include blood in the urine, abdominal pain, and a mass in the kidney area. Treatment options include surgery, radiation therapy, and immunotherapy.

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