Diagnosing Kidney Cancer

Support Throughout the Diagnostic Process

Our physicians, nurses and support staff are here to advise you, listen to you and calm your fears. Your physicians will explain your diagnosis and compassionately offer suggestions for treatment and care. Their job is to help you.

Also available for counsel, support and guidance are nurse coordinators, oncology social workers and a pastoral team. They’ll help you navigate through the system and provide additional assistance, including:

  • Social support
  • Spiritual guidance
  • Emotional support
  • Practical advice
  • Tips on coping

Call on them. They’re here for you.

Because most kidney cancers are discovered incidentally, they’re usually early-stage cancers and the chances of cure are high.

Kristofer R. Wagner, MD, Urology; Director – Robotic Surgery

Early-stage kidney cancer usually has no symptoms. Often, renal cysts are discovered by imaging tests performed for other reasons. You may have a CT scan before a scheduled surgery and find out you have a mass on your kidney. Renal cysts found incidentally are often early stage and have a high incidence of cure.

Sometimes, however, your kidney cancer is found at a more advanced stage. This may happen because renal cysts often are painless and can’t be felt during a physical exam because they’re deep within your body.

Whether your kidney cancer is found in early or advanced stages, you’ll receive top-of-the-line, sophisticated cancer care here at Scott & White. Our team of radiologists and surgical oncologists are on the leading edge of diagnostic procedures and techniques.

And our premier pathologists are expert at identifying and classifying renal cysts, providing key information for your care team that will assist them in making optimal treatment decisions for you.

Kidney Cancer Diagnostic Services

At Scott & White Healthcare, we use the most advanced diagnostic equipment available to identify and evaluate your renal cyst.

If your physician finds a renal cyst, he or she may order one or more of the following tests to evaluate your cyst further.

Physical Exams and Laboratory Tests

  • Physical examination and history. Your physician will begin with a thorough physical exam and medical history.
  • Kidney function test. Your physician may order one or more laboratory tests to evaluate how well your kidneys are functioning.
    • Creatinine — Elevated levels indicate your kidneys are not performing well.
    • Creatinine clearance test—Compares the level of creatinine in your blood with the level of creatinine in your urine.
  • Urinalysis. A urinalysis can provide clues regarding how well your kidneys are functioning.
  • Complete blood count
  • Blood chemistry tests
    • Liver enzymes — Elevated levels may indicate kidney cancer.
    • Blood calcium — Elevated levels may indicate your kidney cancer has spread to your bones.

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Imaging Tests

Your physician may order one or more of these imaging tests to evaluate your cyst further:

  • Abdominal ultrasound
  • Computed tomography (CT) Scan
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) Scan

Other tests your physician may order to assess your kidneys and gain information regarding your kidney cancer include:

  • Intravenous pyelogram (IVP)
  • Angiography. Angiography may be used prior to surgery to remove your kidney.

If you have a positive diagnosis of kidney cancer, your physician may order one or more of the following imaging tests to determine whether cancer has spread to other parts of your body:

  • Positron emission tomography (PET) scan
  • Chest X-Ray
  • Bone Scan


A biopsy is rarely used to confirm the presence of kidney cancer. In some cases, however, your physician may order a biopsy if the results of other diagnostic tests are inconclusive. Tissue samples are sent to the laboratory for evaluation by a pathologist.

Fine Needle Aspiration

In some cases, your physician may recommend a fine needle aspiration. Your physician will insert a very thin needle into your kidney and remove a tiny sample of kidney tissue.

Image-Guided Needle Biopsy

In some cases, your physician may recommend an image-guided needle biopsy. Your interventional radiologist will insert a thin needle, guided by CT scan or ultrasound, into your kidney, and will remove one or more small tissue samples.

Image-guided needle biopsies are also used to help evaluate rare kidney tumors that have an atypical appearance on imaging and maybe require a different treatment than renal cell carcinoma.

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