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NCCN Guidelines for Patients



Kidney Cancer, Version 1.2017


Kidney cancer basics

What are the kidneys?

Learning that you have cancer can feel

overwhelming. Part 1 explains some

basics about kidney cancer that may

help you better understand this disease.

This information may also help you start

planning for treatment.

What are the kidneys?

The kidneys are a pair of organs found in the back

part of the belly area (abdomen), just above the

waist. One kidney is on the left side of the backbone

(spine) and one is on the right side.

See Figure 1


Each kidney is about the size of an adult’s fist. The

kidney is covered by a thin layer of tissue, like the

skin of an apple. This layer of tissue is called the

renal capsule. The word “renal” refers to the kidneys

or something related to the kidneys. For example,

“renal disease” is a disease of the kidneys.

An adrenal gland sits on top of each kidney. The

kidney and adrenal gland are surrounded by a layer

of fat. Covering the fat is an outer layer of fibrous

tissue called Gerota’s fascia.

See Figure 2


What the kidneys do in the body

The kidneys are part of the urinary system, shown

in Figure 1. The urinary system is a group of organs

that remove waste from the body in the form of urine.

This system includes the kidneys, ureters, bladder,

and urethra.

The kidneys perform many jobs to keep your body

healthy. They make hormones that help control blood

pressure. They also make hormones that tell the

body to make more red blood cells. The main job of

the kidneys is to filter blood to remove waste and

extra water the body doesn’t need. They make urine

from the waste taken out of the blood. By filtering

the blood, the kidneys also control and balance the

levels of fluids and chemicals in the body.