Symptoms, Treatment & Life Expectancy of Stage 4 Kidney Cancer

Submitted by Nic on October 19, 2012

The success of any cancer treatment largely depends on what stage the cancer had reached at the time of diagnosis. This is seen in the cases of kidney cancer as well. Patients who catch the cancer in the early stages have a better chance of survival than those who are diagnosed with stage 3 or stage 4 of kidney cancer.

If a patient has been diagnosed with or has reached stage 4 of kidney cancer, it means that the cancer has spread to other parts of the body besides the kidneys. In fact, stage 4 of kidney cancer is further sub-divided into stage 4A and stage 4B. In stage 4A, the cancer has developed in the tissues surrounding the kidneys but not in the nearby organs whereas in stage 4B, other parts of the body are also affected by the cancer.

Symptoms of stage 4 kidney cancer may include:

  • A large lump or tumor that can be felt in the abdomen
  • Blood in the urine
  • Edema or swelling of different parts of the body
  • Unexplained weight gain
  • Chronic lower back pain
  • Constant or high fever
  • Pain in the bones, increase frequency of bone fractures and bone loss
  • Cancer cells have spread to nearby lymph nodes and organs or even the lungs

Common treatment options for stage 4 kidney cancer are immunotherapy, chemotherapy, and targeted therapy or cytokine therapy (interleukin-2 or interferon). In some cases where the cancer has not spread too much, laparoscopic renal surgery or renal nephrectomy may be recommended. Because of the advanced nature of stage 4 kidney cancer, attending clinical trials for new drugs or therapies is also a treatment option. In severe cases, where surgery or any type of targeted therapy is not possible, palliative treatments such as radiation therapy or embolization are the only alternatives available. These can reduce symptoms such as pain and help the patient maintain a certain quality of life.

Due to the limited range of treatment options available, the life expectancy for people diagnosed with stage 4 kidney cancer is not very high. Studies show that only ten in 100 patients make it to the five-year recovery mark. There are two factors that may affect these poor survival statistics. The first is the grade of cancer. This refers to how the cancer cells look when studied under a microscope.

Using a system known as the Fuhrman system, cancer cells can be graded from 1 to 4 according to the size and appearance of the nucleus of the cells. Patients with low-grade cancer have a higher rate of survival than those with higher grades. The other factor that determines a patient’s prognosis of stage 4 kidney cancer is his or her overall health.

Known as the ‘Performance Status’ in medical terms, the healthier the patient is, the better the chances of survival. Patients who suffer from frequent bouts of fever and complain of exhaustion or weight loss have a poorer prognosis than those who do not suffer from these conditions.


  • Rodriguez A, Sexton WJ. Management of locally advanced renal cell carcinoma. Cancer Control. 2006;13(3):199-210
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