How are Renal Tumors Diagnosed?

There are no routine lab tests to find kidney cancer. Often tumors are found during genetic screening or when you see a doctor about another problem. If your doctor thinks you have a kidney tumor, he/she might send you to see a urologist. A urologist is a doctor who specializes in the genitourinary system. When you see your urologist, they will ask you questions about your symptoms and health. They will give you a physical exam, order lab tests and may take pictures of your body.

Some common tests and procedures for renal tumors

Your doctor may use many tests and procedures to make a diagnosis. Here are some that you might expect: 

  • Physical exam and history is when your healthcare provider checks your body and asks you questions about your health and family. He/she will check for lumps or any other unusual signs. Your health habits, past illnesses and treatments will also be discussed. 
  • Basic or complete metabolic panel (CMP), also called a blood chemistry, is used to evaluate organ function and check for certain conditions.
  • Complete Blood Count (CBC) checks for certain substances. If amounts are higher or lower than normal, that may be a sign of disease. 
  • Urinalysis checks for infection, blood and protein in your urine. 
  • Kidney function tests check how well the kidneys are working. They show if the kidneys are getting rid of waste the right way. 
  • Ultrasounds take pictures of your kidneys and organs. 

Imaging Tests:

  • CT scan (CAT scan or computed tomography) and MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) are useful for diagnosing and staging renal masses. They can show which kidney is affected, whether the cancer has spread and if other glands or organs are involved. 
  • Chest x-rays help to find out what stage your cancer is. A mass in your chest usually suggests your tumor has spread. 
  • Bone scans may be done if you have bone pain or neurologic (nerve) symptoms.

Renal mass biopsy may be done to find out what type of tumor you may have. A biopsy is when cells or tiny parts of an organ are removed and studied. A pathologist views the sample under a microscope. The biopsy will show if the tumor started in another part of your body or if it started in the kidney. A biopsy may also tell if there is an infection, such as an abscess. It can help find cancer and make better treatment choices.