Kidney cancer : Diagnosis

See a GP if you have symptoms of kidney cancer. They will do some simple checks and can refer you for further tests if necessary.


Seeing a GP

The GP may:

  • ask you about your symptoms
  • examine you to feel for any lumps or swelling
  • test a sample of your pee for infections or blood – any blood will not always be visible to the naked eye
  • arrange for a blood test to check for signs of a kidney problem

These checks may help diagnose or rule out some possible causes of your symptoms, such as a urinary tract infection (UTI).

If the GP thinks you need further assessment, they can refer you to a hospital specialist. If you need to be referred urgently, you'll usually be seen within 2 weeks.

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Tests for kidney cancer

These tests can confirm or rule out kidney cancer. If you have cancer, they can help show whether it has spread to other parts of your body.

The tests you might have include:

  • an ultrasound scan – a scan that uses high frequency sound waves to create an image of your kidneys so your doctor can see any problems
  • CT scan – a detailed scan where several X-rays are taken and then put together by a computer; you may be given an injection of a dye beforehand so your kidneys can be seen more clearly
  • an MRI scan – a scan that uses strong magnetic fields and radio waves to produce a detailed image of your kidneys
  • cystoscopy – where a thin tube is passed up your urethra (the tube that carries urine out of your body) so your doctor can see any problems in your bladder
  • biopsy – where a needle is inserted into your kidney to remove a small tissue sample for analysis in a laboratory; local anaesthetic is used to numb the area so the procedure should not hurt
  • a PET scan – a detailed body scan that can be helpful for investigating confirmed cases of kidney cancer to see if the cancer has spread and how well it's responding to treatment

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Stages of kidney cancer

If you're diagnosed with kidney cancer, it will usually be given a "stage". This is a number that describes how far the cancer has spread.

Doctors use the TNM system to stage kidney cancer. This consists of 3 numbers:

  • T (tumour) – from 1 to 4, depending on the size of the tumour
  • N (node) – from 0 to 2, depending on whether the cancer has spread to nearby lymph glands
  • M (metastases) – either 0 or 1, depending on whether the cancer has spread to another part of the body

Cancer Research UK has more information about the stages of kidney cancer.

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Coping with the diagnosis

Being diagnosed with cancer can be very distressing. The news can be difficult to take in and make sense of.

Talking to your friends or family may help, although you might also find it useful to speak to a counsellor, a psychiatrist or other people in a similar situation to you.

Cancer UK has more information and advice on coping with kidney cancer.

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