Virginia Commonwealth University

VCU Massey Cancer Center

How is kidney cancer (renal cell cancer) diagnosed?

In addition to a complete medical history and physical examination, diagnostic procedures for kidney cancer may include the following:

  • Blood and urine laboratory tests.
  • Intravenous pyelogram (IVP) – a series of X-rays of the kidney, ureters and bladder with the injection of a contrast dye into the vein — to detect tumors, abnormalities, kidney stones or any obstructions, and to assess renal blood flow.
  • Renal angiography (also called arteriography) – a series of X-rays of the renal blood vessels with the injection of a contrast dye into a catheter, which is placed into the blood vessels of the kidney, to detect any signs of blockage or abnormalities affecting the blood supply to the kidneys.
  • Other imaging tests (to show the difference between diseased and healthy tissues), including the following:

    • Computed tomography scan (also called a CT or CAT scan) – a noninvasive procedure that takes cross-sectional images of the brain or other internal organs; to detect any abnormalities that may not show up on an ordinary X-ray.
    • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) – a noninvasive procedure that produces a two-dimensional view of an internal organ or structure, especially the brain and spinal cord.
    • Ultrasound (also called sonography) – a diagnostic imaging technique that uses high-frequency sound waves and a computer to create images of blood vessels, tissues and organs. Ultrasounds are used to view internal organs as they function and to assess blood flow through various vessels.

Based on results of other tests and procedures, a biopsy may be needed. A biopsy is a procedure in which a sample of the tumor is removed and sent to the laboratory for examination by a pathologist. Biopsy is the only sure way to diagnose cancer.