What is Papillary Renal Cell Carcinoma?

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  • Written By: Mary Elizabeth
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 08 October 2019
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Papillary renal cell carcinoma is one of the types of renal cell cancer, also known as renal adenocarcinoma or kidney cancer. Renal cell cancers are malignant cells found in the lining of kidney tubules, the purpose of which is to clean the blood. Tumors of the kidney may be any of five basic cell types: clear-cell; chromophilic-cell, chromophobic-cell, oncocytic-cell, or collector duct cell type. The second of these—chromophilic-cell—is also referred to as papillary renal cell carcinoma, or PRCC.

Carcinoma refers to a malignant cancer that stems from cells in epithelial, or lining, tissue of the body. Papillary refers to small protuberances like those on the top of the tongue, also described as “finger-like,” that are characteristic in this tumor. And chromophilic because of the way the cells of the papillary renal cell carcinoma react to dyes used to make them visible under the microscope.

Renal cell carcinomas only represent three percent of malignancies in adults, and instances of papillary renal cell carcinoma make up around ten to fifteen percent of renal cell tumors. It is the second most common subtype of renal cell carcinoma, after clear cell renal cell carcinoma, abbreviated RCC. It is estimated that five times as many males as females get papillary renal cell carcinoma.


There is a hereditary form of this carcinoma called hereditary papillary renal carcinoma which is caused by chromosomal translocation. This genetic form of the disease results in multiple tumors forming in both kidneys. While similar to von Hippel-Lindau syndrome and Birt-Hogg-Dube syndrome in being hereditary, it is a distinct disease.

Besides heredity, there are some more general risk factors for renal cell carcinoma, including male gender, being African American, being over 60; smoking cigarettes, obesity, having high blood pressure, and a high calorie diet. Occupational exposure to chemicals and substances, including asbestos and cadmium, can also increase risk. In addition, medical treatments, such as dialysis, and certain medications, including pain killers and diuretics, can increase a person’s risk of getting a renal cell carcinoma.

Symptoms of papillary renal cell carcinoma can include anemia, bloody urine, brown or red urine, feelings of lethargy or malaise, fever, lower back pain, nausea, vomiting, and weight loss. Depending on the stage of the cancer when it is diagnosed, treatment options include biologic therapy, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, surgery, stem cell transplant, and targeted therapy.


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