Signs & Symptoms

  • Blood in the urine (making the urine slightly rusty to deep red).
  • Pain in the side that does not go away.
  • A lump or mass in the side or the abdomen.
  • Weight loss.
  • Fever.
  • Feeling very tired or having a general feeling of poor health.

Most often, these symptoms do not mean cancer. An infection, a cyst, or another problem also can cause the same symptoms. A person with any of these symptoms should see a doctor so that any problem can be diagnosed and treated as early as possible.


if a patient has symptoms that suggest kidney cancer, the doctor may perform one or more of the following procedures:

  • Physical Examination
    The doctor checks general signs of health and tests for fever and high blood pressure. The doctor also feels the abdomen and side for tumors.
  • Urine Tests
    Urine is checked for blood and other signs of disease.
  • Blood Tests
    The lab checks the blood to see how well the kidneys are working. The lab may check the level of several substances, such as creatinine. A high level of creatinine may mean the kidneys are not doing their job.
  • Ultrasound Test
    The ultrasound device uses sound waves that people cannot hear. The waves bounce off the kidneys, and a computer uses the echoes to create a picture called a sonogram. A solid tumor or cyst shows up on a sonogram.
  • CT Scan (CAT Scan)
    An x-ray machine linked to a computer takes a series of detailed pictures of the kidneys. The patient may receive an injection of dye so the kidneys show up clearly in the pictures. A CT scan can show a kidney tumor.
  • Biopsy
    In some cases, the doctor may do a biopsy. A biopsy is the removal of tissue to look for cancer cells. The doctor inserts a thin needle through the skin into the kidney to remove a small amount of tissue. The doctor may use ultrasound or x-rays to guide the needle. A pathologist uses a microscope to look for cancer cells in the tissue.
  • Surgery
    In most cases, based on the results of the CT scan, ultrasound, and x-rays, the doctor or specialist has enough information to recommend surgery to remove part or the entire kidney. A pathologist makes the final diagnosis by examining the tissue under a microscope.

Treatment Staging

To plan the best treatment, the doctor needs to know the stage (extent) of the disease. The stage is based on the size of the tumor, whether the cancer has spread and, if so, to what parts of the body. Staging may involve imaging tests such as an ultrasound or a CT scan. The doctor also may use an MRI. For this test, a powerful magnet linked to a computer makes detailed pictures of organs and blood vessels.

Doctors describe kidney cancer by the following stages:

  • Stage I
    It is an early stage of kidney cancer. The tumor measures up to 2¾ inches (7 centimeters). It is no bigger than a tennis ball. The cancer cells are found only in the kidney.
  • Stage II
    It is also an early stage of kidney cancer, but the tumor measures more than 2¾ inches. The cancer cells are found only in the kidney.
  • Stage III is one of the following
    The tumor does not extend beyond the kidney, but cancer cells have spread through the lymphatic system to one nearby lymph node;

    The tumor has invaded the adrenal gland or the layers of fat and fibrous tissue that surround the kidney, but cancer cells have not spread beyond the fibrous tissue. Cancer cells may be found in one nearby lymph node;

    The cancer cells have spread from the kidney to a nearby large blood vessel. Cancer cells may be found in one nearby lymph node.
  • Stage IV is one of the following
    The tumor extends beyond the fibrous tissue that surrounds the kidney;

    Cancer cells are found in more than one nearby lymph node;

    The cancer has spread to other places in the body such as the lungs.
  • Recurrent Cancer
    It is cancer that has come back (recurred) after treatment. It may come back in the kidney or in another part of the body.


Many people with kidney cancer want to take an active part in making decisions about their medical care. They want to learn all they can about their disease and their treatment choices. However, shock and stress after the diagnosis can make it hard to think of everything they want to ask the doctor. It often helps to make a list of questions before an appointment. To help remember what the doctor says, people may take notes or ask whether they may use a tape recorder. Some also want to have a family member or friend with them when they talk to the doctor–to take part in the discussion, to take notes, or just to listen.

The doctor may refer the patient to a specialist, or the patient may ask for a referral. Specialists who treat kidney cancer include doctors who specialize in diseases of the urinary system (urologists) and doctors who specialize in cancer (medical oncologists and radiation oncologists).

Preparing for Treatment
Treatment depends mainly on the stage of disease and the patient’s general health and age. The doctor can describe treatment choices and discuss the expected results. The doctor and patient can work together to develop a treatment plan that fits the patient’s needs.

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