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Cancer Health Center

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Understanding Kidney Cancer

How Do I Know If I Have Kidney Cancer? continued...

Unlike with many other cancers, your doctor may be pretty certain about a diagnosis of kidney cancer without a biopsy. Sometimes, a biopsy will be done to confirm the diagnosis. A doctor may use a needle biopsy to remove a sample of tissue, which is then examined under a microscope for cancer cells. The biopsy may also tell the grade of the cancer -- how aggressive the cancer is likely to be. Often the surgeon will simply remove the entire tumor and then have a sample of tissue examined.

Once your doctor makes a diagnosis of kidney cancer, you may need other tests to tell if the cancer has spread within your kidney, to the other kidney, or to other parts of your body. When cancer spreads from the place where it first started, it has metastasized. You might need a CT scan or MRI. A chest X-ray can show whether the cancer has spread to your lungs. A bone scan can see if it is in your bones. These tests will help your doctor determine the stage of kidney cancer.

What Are the Stages of Kidney Cancer?

Your prognosis depends on your general health, as well as the grade and stage of your kidney cancer.

These are the stages of kidney cancer. The higher the stage, the more advanced the cancer.

Stage I

  • A tumor 7 centimeters or smaller that is only in the kidney

Stage II

  • A tumor larger than 7 centimeters that is only in the kidney

Stage III

  • A tumor that is in the kidney and in at least one nearby lymph node
  • A tumor that is in the kidney's main blood vessel and may also be in nearby lymph node
  • A tumor that is in the fatty tissue around the kidney and may also involve nearby lymph nodes
  • A tumor that extends into major veins or perinephric tissues, but not into the ipsilateral adrenal gland and not beyond Gerota's fascia

Stage IV

  • Cancer has spread beyond the fatty layer of tissue around the kidney, and it may also be in nearby lymph nodes
  • Cancer may have spread to other organs, such as the bowel, pancreas, or lungs
  • Cancer has spread beyond Gerota's fascia (including contiguous extension into the ipsilateral adrenal gland)

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