Diagnosis of Kidney Cancer

If the physician suspects RCC, a series of examinations, procedures, and laboratory tests are performed to confirm the diagnosis. A thorough physical examination is performed to assess the patient's health and obtain information about symptoms and a medical history is taken to determine if there are risk factors for RCC.

Imaging Tests to Diagnose Kidney Cancer

One or more imaging tests are performed to obtain pictures of the kidney(s) and locate abnormalities. Some imaging tests require the injection of a special "tracer" material (dye or low-level radioactive isotope) into the patient's bloodstream.

Computed Tomography (CT scan)

CT scan is a type of x-ray that produces a series of cross-sectional, three-dimensional images of internal organs and glands. It can detect tumors and, in some cases, lymph nodes enlarged by cancer.

Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI scan)

An MRI scan uses large magnets to project magnetic waves through the body and create computer-generated, cross-sectional images of internal organs.


Ultrasound uses sound waves projected into the body to produce an image of internal organs, structures, and tumors. In this procedure, a gel is applied to the patient's pelvic and kidney areas, and a small device that emits ultrasonic pulses is slowly passed over the area. The sonic image produced is viewed on a monitor.

Intravenous Pyelogram (IVP)

An intravenous pyelogram (IVP) involves injecting a dye containing iodine through a vein in the arm into the bloodstream. The dye eventually collects in the urinary system, where it improves the contrast for x-rays and produces a well-defined image of the kidneys, ureters, and bladder. By showing up as white on the dark x-ray film, the IVP can detect tumors or damage caused by a tumor in the kidney.

In some cases, the physician may request an arteriogram or venacavagram (IVP of the blood vessels that supply the kidneys) to look for tumors in the connecting arteries and veins.

Chest X-ray

A standard chest x-ray may be used to detect RCC that has has spread (metastasized) to the lungs or bones in the chest.

Bone Scan

This nuclear imaging procedure is used to detect the spread (metastasis) of cancer to bones, when aggressive tumors and metastasis are suspected. In a bone scan, a small amount of low-level radioactive material is injected into a vein in the arm. This material discloses metastatic cancer, as well as some noncancerous diseases, in bones.

Publication Review By: Stanley J. Swierzewski, III, M.D.

Published: 09 Jun 1998

Last Modified: 22 Sep 2015