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Kidney cancer

Find out about how kidney cancer is diagnosed, including the tests that may be carried out.

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

Seeing your GP

Your GP may:

  • ask you about the symptoms you've been having
  • carry out a simple examination to feel for any lumps or swelling
  • test a sample of your pee for infections or blood – any blood won't always be visible to the naked eye
  • take a small sample of blood so it can be checked for signs of a kidney problem

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

If your 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 two weeks.

Tests for kidney cancer

The tests you might need may include:

  • an ultrasound scan – a scan that uses high frequency sound waves to create an image of your kidneys so your doctor can spot any problems
  • computerised tomography (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 special dye beforehand so your kidneys show up more clearly
  • magnetic resonance imaging (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 the body) so your doctor can spot 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 doesn't hurt

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.

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 three numbers:

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

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

Coping with the diagnosis

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

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.

Read about coping with a cancer diagnosis for more information and advice.


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