Your healthcare provider will first take a complete medical history, including risk factors and note your symptoms. You’ll be given a physical exam and may be asked to give a blood or urine sample. While these tests can’t diagnose cancer, they can offer clues as to whether there may be a problem with the kidneys.

To get a better look at the kidneys, your provider will order imaging tests – typically a CT scan, ultrasound or a combination of imaging studies – to evaluate them. Imaging tests are also used to evaluate a possible metastasis or spread of cancer; these include abdominal CT scans, MRIs, chest X-rays, bone scans (if the patient has bone pain or had a recent bone fracture) and blood tests. CT scans and MRIs can also detect if cancer has spread into the vena cava, which is a large vein leading to the heart, and renal (kidney) veins. This is called tumor thrombus.

In many cases, kidney cancer can be diagnosed with imaging tests, without need for biopsy, which requires removing a portion of the tumor for evaluation under a microscope. However, some patients may still require a biopsy.