Kidney Cancer Diagnosis

Most kidney tumors are found by chance when doctors are examining people for another condition, such as pain around the stomach. Often these tumors are at an early stage, before any symptoms have developed. As many as 1 in 3 kidney tumors are found to be benign (noncancerous).

The following tests can help us figure out if a kidney tumor is benign or malignant (cancerous). If it is cancerous, we’ll find out what type of tumor is present. Getting an accurate diagnosis helps ensure that you get the most effective treatment.

Our kidney cancer experts will often repeat radiologic imaging done at another facility to diagnose a benign mass. This can help you avoid a biopsy (a procedure that removes tissue from a tumor so it can be studied under a microscope) or surgery.

CT Scans and other Kidney Imaging Tests

Imaging tests, such as CT scans, can help us see what’s going on in your kidneys and help determine if there is cancer there. CT scans use x-rays to take pictures of the body. To limit your exposure to radiation, we do this only when absolutely necessary.

Your treatment team can use this information to help plan out your surgery, often with one test. We may recommend that you get an ultrasound test if we need to figure out whether a mass in the kidneys is a fluid-filled cyst or a solid tumor.

Other imaging tests we may use include:

  • cytoscopy, which involves inserting a small tube with a lens into your urethra (a thin tube that carries urine from the bladder) to see it and your bladder
  • pyelogram, a special x-ray of your kidneys and ureters
  • ureteroscopy, in which we pass a narrow, lighted tube through your urethra and into the bladder, a ureter, and the renal pelvis to look for signs of cancer

Biopsy of a Kidney Tumor

To determine if a tumor is cancerous, we may recommend that you get a kidney biopsy.

In this procedure, we remove a tiny piece of tissue from a tumor and have a pathologist examine it under a microscope to see what type of cells are there.

If the cells are cancerous, the pathologist will determine which type of cancer you have.

We use the results of a kidney biopsy to help predict your prognosis more accurately and determine whether you need additional care.