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Kidney Cancer Diagnostic Tests

There are a number of kidney cancer diagnostic tests (including imaging studies) that can be used to diagnose a kidney cancer. Kidney cysts can be visualized with ultrasonography, CT and MRI scan.

Excretory urography (also called “intravenous pyelogram”) is often used to show the abnormality, but it is also useful to show that the other kidney is functioning normally. However, because cancer is a cytological diagnosis, an analysis of the cyst content needs to be done. This is accomplished by “percutaneous cyst puncture”.

It means in plain English that a needle is used under CT scan guidance to puncture the kidney cyst in order to obtain fluid for cytology
(= cell analysis).

When the sample is removed a small amount of dye is injected to see the exact outline of the cyst and potential cancer structures in it. Enzymes(LDH) and various chemicals are analyzed from the cyst fluid and the pathologist reports about the cells obtained.

At times the old standard X ray of a renal arteriogram is still used, where a dye is injected via a femoral catheter into the main kidney artery. This shows tortuous tumor vessels. However, nowadays the arteriogram has largely been replaced by CT scans, as this will also show not only the details of the kidney cancer, but also the surrounding tissue and the local lymph gland metastases. MRI scanning is important for scanning the inferior vena cava (the main body vein of the lower body half). Kidney blood tests and other organ function tests complement the imaging findings (Ref. 1 and 2).



1. Cancer: Principles &Practice of Oncology.4th edition. Edited by Vincent T. DeVita, Jr. et al. Lippincott, Philadelphia,PA, 1993. Chapter on Cancer of the kidney and ureter.

2. Cancer: Principles&Practice of Oncology. 5th edition, volume 1. Edited by Vincent T. DeVita, Jr. et al. Lippincott-Raven Publ., Philadelphia,PA, 1997. Chapter on Cancer of the kidney and ureter.

3. D Baris et al. Am J Ind Med 2001 May;39(5):463-476.

4. A Heiser et al. Cancer Res 2001 Apr 15;61(8):3388-3393.

5. A Gati et al. Cancer Res 2001 Apr 15;61(8):3240-3244.

6. P Lissoni et al. Anticancer Res 2001 Jan-Feb;21(1B):777-779.

7. X Guo et al. Cancer Res 2001 Mar 15;61(6):2774-2781.

8. A Bergstrom et al. Int J Cancer 2001 Apr 1;92(1):155-157.

9. Conn’s Current Therapy 2004, 56th ed., Copyright © 2004 Elsevier

10. Ferri: Ferri’s Clinical Advisor: Instant Diagnosis and Treatment, 2004 ed., Copyright © 2004 Mosby, Inc

Last modified: August 29, 2014

This outline is only a teaching aid to patients and should stimulate you to ask the right questions when seeing your doctor. However, the responsibility of treatment stays in the hands of your doctor and you.