Kidney cancer is often found during an imaging test for another reason. Your doctor will ask about your symptoms (if you have any) and medical and family history. The abdominal, pelvic, and back areas will be carefully examined. Your doctor may recommend different tests in order to identify any tumors and confirm diagnosis.
Certain urinary symptoms can be caused by a range of medical conditions. If you are having urinary symptoms, your doctor may conduct certain tests to identify abnormalities. These may include:
Unlike other cancers, kidney cancer can be diagnosed with imaging tests. Imaging tests can also help assess tumor size and location. Some tests use contrast material to highlight structures so images are more clear and detailed. Imaging tests may include:
If for some reason these tests are unclear, a biopsy can be done to confirm a diagnosis. A biopsy is done with a fine needle or core needle (a wider, hollow cylinder). The device is inserted into the kidney to collect tissue samples. The samples are examined under a microscope for the presence of cancer cells.
If kidney cancer is confirmed, results from completed tests and new tests will help determine the stage of cancer. Staging is used to identify characteristics of the tumor that will help determine the prognosis and treatment plan. Factors that play a role on staging include how far the original tumor has spread, whether lymph nodes are involved, if cancer has spread to other tissue, and microscopic cellular details.
Imaging tests are used to help determine how deep the tumor has moved into the kidney or nearby structures. They may also help to determine if there are any metastatic growths in other areas of the body. Contrast material may be used in some tests to enhance details. Imaging tests may include:
Kidney cancer is staged from I-IV.
Kidney cancer. National Kidney Foundation website. Available at: https://www.kidney.org/atoz/content/what-kidney-cancer. Accessed February 28, 2020.
Kidney cancer (adult)—renal cell carcinoma. American Cancer Society website. Available at:
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Accessed February 28, 2020.
Renal cell carcinoma. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T114704/Renal-cell-carcinoma. Updated October 10, 2018. Accessed February 28, 2020.
Stages of renal cell cancer. National Cancer Institute website. Available at: https://www.cancer.gov/types/kidney/patient/kidney-treatment-pdq#section/_26. Updated December 23, 2016. Accessed February 28, 2020.
Last reviewed December 2019 by EBSCO Medical Review Board
Mohei Abouzied, MD, FACP
Last Updated: 2/28/2020