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Symptoms & Diagnosis

Wilmot Cancer Institute provides the full spectrum of kidney cancer care, from initial diagnosis and treatment to recovery and rehabilitation.

We work in multidisciplinary teams. Multidisciplinary means that our care providers are experts with a variety of specialties: surgeons, medical oncologists, radiation oncologists, pathologists, radiologists, nurse practitioners, social workers, and clinical researchers. They work together on your case to provide the most personalized care possible.

Kidney cancer symptoms

Getting an accurate diagnosis is essential to getting the best treatment. Signs and symptoms of kidney cancer usually occur as the tumor grows. They include:

  • Blood in the urine
  • Back pain on one side that doesn't go away
  • A lump in the abdomen
  • Fatigue
  • Weight loss without trying or loss of appetite

Small cancers are hard to detect because the kidneys are located deep inside the body; some tumors can grow quite large before they cause pain or symptoms.

Screening

There are no recommended screening tests unless you have an inherited syndrome that greatly increases the risk of kidney cancer. For those people, doctors usually offer regularly scheduled imaging tests.

How is kidney cancer diagnosed?

Medical history and physical examination: This includes a complete medical history and assessment of risk factors and symptoms. The physical exam will focus on the mid-section and look for general signs of health.

Urinalysis: This is a microscopic examination of urine to look for blood; it also includes chemical tests that measure sugar, protein, and red and white blood cells.

Lab tests: This involves taking a blood sample and checking it for various signs of illness, including liver function and anemia (too few red blood cells). Lab tests are usually abnormal in people who have kidney cancer.

Imaging: This includes x-rays, CT scans, MRIs, PET scans, and ultrasounds, which provide detailed pictures and can help determine if cancer is present or if it has spread. An intravenous pyelogram (IVP) is a series of x-rays using contrast dye to highlight cancer in the renal pelvis, ureter, and bladder. Doctors usually diagnose kidney cancer with sophisticated imaging tests.

Biopsy: A biopsy involves removing cells or other tissue for examination by a pathologist. Biopsies are not always needed with kidney cancer, though.