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Epidemiology, pathology, and pathogenesis of renal cell carcinoma

Michael B Atkins, MD
Toni K Choueiri, MD
Section Editor
Jerome P Richie, MD, FACS
Deputy Editor
Michael E Ross, MD


Renal cell carcinomas (RCCs), which originate within the renal cortex, are responsible for 80 to 85 percent of all primary renal neoplasms. Transitional cell carcinomas of the renal pelvis are the next most common (approximately 8 percent). Other parenchymal epithelial tumors, such as oncocytomas, collecting duct tumors, and renal sarcomas, occur infrequently. Nephroblastoma or Wilms' tumor is common in children (5 to 6 percent of all primary renal tumors), while renal medullary carcinoma is a rare form of RCC seen in sickle cell disease. (See "Renal manifestations of sickle cell disease".)

The epidemiology, pathology, and pathogenesis of RCC will be reviewed here. The clinical and radiographic presentation, staging methods, prognosis, and management of these tumors are discussed separately. (See "Clinical manifestations, evaluation, and staging of renal cell carcinoma" and "Prognostic factors in patients with renal cell carcinoma".)


Incidence — Globally, the incidence of renal cell carcinoma (RCC) varies widely from region to region [1], with the highest rates observed in the Czech Republic and North America [2]. In the United States, there are approximately 64,000 new cases and almost 14,000 deaths from RCC each year [3]. In the European Union, there were approximately 84,000 cases of RCC and 35,000 deaths due to kidney cancer in 2012 [4].

Gender and age — RCC is approximately 50 percent more common in men compared with women [5]. RCC occurs predominantly in the sixth to eighth decade of life with median age at diagnosis around 64 years of age, according to the 2003 to 2007 National Cancer Institute (NCI) Surveillance, Epidemiology and End Results (SEER) Cancer Statistics Review; it is unusual in patients under 40 years of age and rare in children [6-8].

Race — Within the United States, Asian Americans or Pacific Islanders have the lowest incidence of renal cancers compared with American Indians/Alaska natives, Hispanic/Latinos, Whites, or African Americans [9].

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Literature review current through: Nov 2017. | This topic last updated: Jun 14, 2017.
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