In the past, kidney cancer / Renal Cell Carcinoma (RCC) was diagnosed only after the tumors had become quite large or symptoms of flank pain, blood in the urine or palpable mass in the abdomen developed. Today, most RCC are now found incidentally during examinations for other problems or during imaging studies such as ultrasound, CAT scan or MRI.
Early diagnosis of kidney cancer is important to successful treatment. As with most types of cancer, the earlier the tumor is discovered, the better a patient's chances for survival, as tumors discovered at an early stage often respond well to treatment. Kidney cancer survival rates in such cases are high. Tumors that have grown large or spread (metastasized) through the bloodstream or lymphatic system to other parts of the body are more difficult to treat and present an increased risk for death.
In addition to taking a complete medical history and performing a physical exam, your doctor will likely recommend blood and urine tests. If your doctor suspects a problem, or if you are at high risk of kidney cancer (Incidence-Risk Factors), you may also have one or more of the following tests to check for growths or tumors:
If kidney cancer signs are confirmed, the next step is to determine whether the cancer has spread outside of the kidneys (metastasized). This usually means more tests, including additional blood tests, an ultrasound of your liver, a CT scan, a chest X-ray or a bone scan. A bone scan is a test in which you are given a small amount of a radioactive material that is then taken up by your bones. Tumors absorb even more of this material and show up as a black area when a special camera scans your body.
Although grading and the identification of cancer cell types help determine a patient's prognosis, most doctors believe that the most important factor in predicting prognosis, as well as the treatment options, is the "stage" of the cancer. Staging is the process of gathering information from physical examinations and diagnostic tests to determine the size and location of the tumor and how widespread a cancer is. Diagnostic tests include imaging studies such as CT scans and MRIs.
There are two common staging systems for RCC:
The Fuhrman Grading System is a system used to describe how kidney tumors appear under the microscope.
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