In the past, kidney cancer was diagnosed only after the tumors had become quite large and caused symptoms (flank pain, blood in the urine). Today, most kidney tumors are found incidentally during imaging studies such as ultrasound, CT scan or MRI.
While some small tumors are destined to stay small and not cause harm, others can have aggressive behavior and earlier detection improves outcome. Tumors that have grown large or spread (metastasized) to other parts of the body are more difficult to treat and present an increased risk for death.
In addition to taking a complete medical history, performing a physical exam, and obtaining laboratory tests, your physician may order various imaging tests. These studies are to characterize the kidney tumor and evaluate if the cancer has spread outside of the kidney (metastasized).
PET/CT Scan. Uses special dye containing radioactive tracers with a CT scan (only utilized in select cases).
The most important factor in predicting prognosis, as well as the treatment options, is the "stage" or extent of the cancer. Staging is the process of gathering information from physical examinations and diagnostic tests to determine the size and location of the tumor and how widespread a cancer is.
Important Staging Factors in Kidney Cancer are:
Common staging systems for Kidney Cancer:
Grades of Kidney Cancer
The Fuhrman Grading System is a system used to describe how aggressive kidney tumors appear under the microscope. The Fuhrman grading system ranks tumor cells on a scale of 1 through 4 with the higher grades having more aggressive behavior.
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