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Introduction to Kidney & Ureter Cancer

The kidneys are two bean-shaped organs, each about the size of the fist. They are located behind the abdomen, one on each side of the spine. Ureters are tubes that carry urine from the kidneys to the bladder.

In the United States, kidney and ureter cancer accounts for about 3% of all adult cancers. According to the American Cancer Society, about 32,000 new cases are diagnosed and about 12,000 people die from the disease annually. Kidney and ureter cancer occurs most often in people between the ages of 50 and 70, and affects men almost twice as often as women.

The annual incidence of ureter cancer is about 2,400 cases in the United States (SEER 2002 estimate).

Kidney and ureter cancer seldom causes problems in its early stages. But as a tumor grows, a cancer patient may notice blood in the urine or experience unintentional weight loss or back pain that doesn't go away. Cancer cells may also spread (metastasize) outside the patient's kidneys to nearby organs such as adrenal glands, pancreas and spine, as well as to more distant sites in the body.

According to the National Cancer Institute, the highest incidence of kidney and ureter cancer occurs in the United States, Canada, Northern Europe, Australia, and New Zealand. The lowest incidence is found in Thailand, China, and the Philippines.