Where Does Kidney Cancer Usually Spread To?

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Where does kidney cancer usually spread to? The cancer cells can break away from the original site and travel anywhere in the body which then may form a new cancerous growth called secondary cancer. For kidney cancer, there are particular areas in the body where it usually metastasizes. The stage of when the cancer has spread is called metastatic stage (stage IV).

Early and advanced kidney cancer

Like most things in cancer, it’s also important to diagnose kidney cancer as early as possible because it is relatively easier to treat if caught early. On the other hand, it’s more difficult to treat if it has become advanced. Even at metastatic stage, the treatment goal is only to help relieve the symptoms and slow the progression of the cancer.

image_illustration424Early stage means the cancer is still completely inside the kidney. Advanced stage means the cancer has spread from its site of origin to another part of the body –or– if the cancer cells have found in more than one lymph node and it has grown into the surrounding tissues.

In addition, there is also a phase called locally advanced kidney cancer, the stage of when the cancer cells have been found in the adrenal gland or one of the nearby major blood vessels leading to the kidney. But there is no more than one lymph node affected.

For more detailed information about stages of kidney cancer, see this post! Cancer staging is important and required to determine the most effective cancer treatment.

How does kidney cancer spread?

The cancer can breakaway and spread from where it started to another area of the body. The original area where it grows for the first time is called primary site – and the original cancer is called primary cancer.

When it has spread, it may cause a new growth of tumor called secondary cancer (as noted before). The secondary, metastatic cancer has the same type of cancer cells where they come from, the primary cancer.

For instance; when kidney cancer spreads to the lung, the cancer cells in the lung are kidney cancer cells – it is metastatic kidney cancer or called secondary lung cancer – not primary lung cancer. The process of the cancer cells moves from the original /primary site to other parts of the body and create a new abnormal growth (secondary cancer) is called metastasis.

The metastasis of kidney cancer can occur in several different ways; direct invasion, hematogenous spread, and through lymphatic system.

Direct invasion

With this way, the cancer spreads and grows into surrounding (nearby) tissues or structures. For instance, kidney cancer can easily spread to the adrenal gland – a small, essential gland located on top of each kidney.

Hematogenous spread

The cancer cells can break free from the primary tumor and travel through bloodstream to a new location in the body. With this hematogenous metastasis, they can spread far away from where they started.

Cancer cells that go and circulate into the bloodstream are called circulating tumor cells. Some studies are continuously going to find the most effective way to find these circulating tumor cells and avoid the need for additional tests such as biopsies. Another goal is to find the answer of whether testing circulating tumor cells can help predict and determine the best treatment for each patient.

Lymphatic system spread

Lymphatic system – a group of organs, tubes or tissues involved to help fight infection – can trap harmful or damaged cells such as cancer cells. Therefore, cancer can also spread through this lymphatic system.

Does kidney cancer spread quickly or slowly?

Actually, it’s not easy for the cancer to spread and create a new tumor in another part of the body (especially in the distant organ). Because the body has its own defense system to inhibit the metastasis of cancer!

For instances, the journey of cancer cells through bloodstream and lymphatic system is quite a complicated process. Most of them are probably killed off by the body immune system or die because battered around by the quickly flowing blood. Mostly, they don’t survive – only a few will survive which then may form a secondary cancer.

In general, the chance of developing the secondary cancer is dependent on several factors. These include:

  1. The type of cancer. Some types of kidney cancer are likely to become aggressive and spread more quickly. See more these types in here!
  2. Cancer grading, how cells of cancer look like if compared to normal cells.
  3. The effectiveness of the treatments – whether or not the cancer responds the treatment. If you took the cancer treatment, how well they worked!

Where does kidney cancer usually spread to?

The metastasis of kidney cancer may develop slowly, several years after the diagnosis. Some treatments are available to reduce the risk of this metastasis and control the disease. Even again if caught early, the cancer may be curable!

But sometime the diagnosis is made at advanced stage or when the cancer has already metastasized! And once it reaches its metastatic stage, it’s very difficult to treat. The survival rate (prognosis and outlook) of people with advanced kidney cancer can drop significantly, see more in here.

The cancer can spread into nearby tissues or organs, especially for areas that are close to the affected kidney – such as the other kidney and bowel (large intestine). It is also likely to spread and form a secondary cancer in the following organs: lungs, brain, bones, and liver.


Any cancer elsewhere in the body can spread to the lung. And kidney cancer is one of the most common cancers to do so! The primary cancers of the bowel, breast, bladder, and bone are also often to blame.

Why kidney cancer tends to spread to the lungs? As mentioned earlier, the cancer cells that break off can be carried in the lymph or blood until they set of lymph nodes or get trapped in the next ‘downstream’. And there are many blood vessels and lymph vessels that line from the kidneys to the lungs.

In addition to the symptoms of kidney cancer, patients with secondary lung cancer may also experience the following symptoms:

One Comment
  1. LAURENS Zwart
    November 8, 2023 | Reply

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