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Kidney Cancer Diagnosis and Treatment

Most people with kidney cancer have no noticeable symptoms

The majority of kidney tumors are found incidentally when an imaging study, such as CT scan, MRI or ultrasound, is performed for an unrelated reason.

Evaluation and diagnostic testing

Kidney biopsy involves taking a small tissue sample of the kidney tumor to determine if it is cancerous or benign.

If cancerous, evaluation begins with high quality imaging tests like CT, MRI and ultrasound to determine local staging, including the tumor’s size and location, to evaluate for possible spread to lymph nodes, to the liver or, less commonly, to the bone. Often an x-ray or other modality is used to determine distant spreading, or metastasis.

Active surveillance

For the lowest risk, small kidney masses that have not spread, we do active surveillance, which means these masses can be evaluated by watching closely over time and may never need treatment.


The goal of surgery is curative, and our treatment planning seeks to spare as much noncancerous tissue as possible.

  • Ablation
    the least invasive. By heating or freezing the tumor, it treats only the cancer, sparing the kidney and surrounding normal tissue.
  • Partial nephrectomy (laparoscopic or open; or robotic)
    removing only the affected portion of the kidney, leaving the normal kidney behind;
  • Nephrectomy (laparoscopic or open; or robotic)
    removing the entire kidney when necessary.

Medical management

When surgery alone isn’t curative, there are systemic treatments that can hold the kidney cancer at bay for years. These can include:

  • Ablation:
    treating kidney cancer by heating or freezing it to avoid surgery
  • Chemotherapy:
    given for advanced kidney cancer affecting other organs
  • Clinical trials

Still have questions?

The nurses at Cancer AnswerLine have answers. Call 1-800-865-1125 and you'll get a personal response from one of our registered nurses, who have years of experience in caring for people with cancer.

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