How We Diagnose and Stage Kidney Tumors

A variety of different tests and procedures may be used to detect and diagnose  kidney tumors, as well as to determine their stage – specifically, how advanced the cancer is, and whether it has metastasized (spread outside the kidney).

  • Physical exam and history
  • Laboratory blood tests
  • Urine test
  • IVP (intravenous pyelogram): This procedure uses a contrast dye given through a vein to obtain an X-ray of the kidneys, ureters and bladder. The x-rays can show a kidney tumor or other problems.
  • Angiography: Similar to an IVP, this test uses a contrast dye which outlines blood vessels.
  • CT or CAT (computerized axial tomography) scan: This procedure uses a computer connected to an X-ray machine to obtain detailed pictures of areas inside the body. A dye may be used to help visualize organs or tissues more clearly.
  • MRI (magnetic resonance imaging): MRI creates a series of detailed pictures of areas inside the body, using the combination of a powerful magnet, radio waves and computer imaging.
  • PET (positron emission tomography) scan: This scan is used to identify malignant cells even before an actual “lump or bump” can be detected in a physical exam, or on CAT or MRI scans. A small amount of radionuclide glucose (sugar) is injected into a vein. Because cancer cells divide more frequently than normal cells, they take up more glucose than normal cells and appear brighter in the scan.
  • Ultrasound: This 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.
  • Radionuclide scanning: This technique uses small amounts of radiation which are detected by a special camera to assess kidney blood flow (renogram).
  • Biopsy: Tissue samples are examined under a microscope to determine what types of cells are present.