Kidney cancer is most often detected by chance, but if you have some of the symptoms listed, speak with your doctor.

As with all cancers, early detection can improve the chance of successful treatment and long-term outcomes.

Your doctor may use different approaches, tests and investigations to diagnose kidney cancer, depending on the symptoms you display.

The most common tests that may be ordered include:

Ultrasound – A type of scan where a probe slides over the skin allowing the X-ray team to look for irregularities in the kidney and other organs.

Scans – Computer tomography (CT) scans or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans can provide detailed pictures of organs in the body. This can help characterise a lump in the kidney, if one is found.

Chest x-ray – An X-ray of organs and bones within the chest.

Urine test (urinalysis) – The most common symptom and sign of a kidney tumour is blood in the urine. This test can also detect other irregularities in the urine, such as protein.

Blood tests – Chemical tests of the blood can detect findings associated with kidney cancer.

Intravenous pyelogram (IVP) – A dye is injected into a vein and X-rays are used to map its path through the kidneys and into the urine.

Cytoscopy – A test that checks the bladder and urethra for cancers, using a telescope with a lens and a light that is placed into the bladder through the urethra.

Bone scan – A small amount of radioactive material is injected into a vein and travels through the bloodstream to the bones so that the scanner can detect if cancer has spread to the bones.

Finding a ‘lump’ in the kidney

Whether you had symptoms or had a scan for another reason, once kidney cancer is suspected because of a ‘lump’ in the kidney, the next steps depend on the scan results.

Your doctor might use other words to describe this lump, like a mass, lesion, growth, shadow, neoplasm or tumour. Sometimes these lumps in the kidney can be benign (not actually cancer). Benign lumps can include growths of fat (angiomyolipoma) or a non-cancer growth (oncocytoma).

Benign lumps do not spread to other parts of the body. However, they can sometimes cause trouble locally in the kidney, so a specialist’s advice is still necessary.

The next step after finding a lump in the kidney on a scan is for you and your doctor to discuss if a biopsy is needed. Sometimes the appearance of the lump on the scan is suspicious enough for your doctor to recommend surgery without a biopsy first.

One way that doctors can confirm if a lump is actually cancer is to put a thin needle into the lump. The needle removes cells or tissue, which will then be examined under a microscope by a doctor (a pathologist). This is called a biopsy and is almost always performed by an X-ray doctor (a radiologist) using ultrasound or CT scans.

If you would like to know more about the risk factors, symptoms or diagnosis of kidney cancer, phone our Kidney Cancer Support Service on 1800 454 363 or email kidneycancer@kidney.org.au.

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