How Kidney Cancer is Diagnosed

At Providence Saint John’s Health Center, our urologists diagnose and treat kidney cancer with the most advanced therapies available. We provide focused, personalized care with a team of specialists that will help you make informed decisions.

In order to reach a diagnosis for kidney cancer, we take a thorough medical history and conduct a physical examination to be as accurate as possible. We’ll ask questions, make note of any symptoms you may have experienced and include any other pertinent information.

The following tests may be used to diagnose kidney cancer or to find out if it has spread:

  • Urine tests: A lab checks your urine for blood, cancer cells and other signs of disease.
  • Blood tests: A lab checks your blood for several substances, including creatinine. A high level of creatinine may mean the kidneys aren’t doing their job.
  • Ultrasound: An ultrasound creates a picture of your kidney and nearby tissue and can show a kidney tumor.
  • CT scan: An X-ray machine linked to a computer can show cancer in the kidneys, lymph nodes or other tissue in the abdomen.
  • MRI: A machine with a magnet linked to a computer is used to make detailed pictures that can show cancer in your kidneys, lymph nodes or other tissue in the abdomen.
  • IVP: An injection of dye collects in your kidneys and an X-ray is taken to detect a tumor or other problems.
  • Biopsy: Your doctor inserts a thin needle to remove a sample of tissue from the kidney. The tissue is examined for cancer cells.

Kidney Cancer Staging

If you are diagnosed with kidney cancer, your doctor will determine the stage of the disease. Staging is a way of classifying cancer by how much of the disease is in your body and whether it has spread. This helps doctors plan the best way to treat the cancer.

Your doctor may order one or more tests:

  • Blood tests: Some people with kidney cancer have high levels of calcium or LDH in their blood.
  • Chest X-ray: A chest X-ray can show if kidney cancer has spread to your lungs.
  • CT scan: This scan can show cancer in your lymph nodes, lungs or elsewhere.
  • MRI: An MRI can show cancer in your blood vessels, lymph nodes or other tissue in the abdomen.

These are the stages of kidney cancer:

  • Stage 1: The tumor is no bigger than a tennis ball and cancer cells are found only in the kidney.
  • Stage 2: The tumor is bigger than a tennis ball, but cancer cells are found only in the kidney.
  • Stage 3: The tumor can be any size. It has spread to at least one nearby lymph node, or to nearby blood vessels.
  • Stage 4: The tumor has grown through the outer layer of the kidney, or cancer cells have spread to lymph nodes, the lungs, liver, bones or other tissue.