Kidney cancer may be found because of signs or symptoms, like blood in the urine, low back pain on one side that has not been caused by injury, a lump on the side or lower back, fatigue, loss of appetite, weight loss not caused by dieting, fever that is not caused by an infection and that doesn’t go away or anemia.

Kidney cancer can also be diagnosed through lab tests of the blood or urine, or imaging tests using x-rays, magnetic fields, sound waves or radioactive substances.

Staging of kidney cancer is based on the acronym TNM, which stands for:

  • T – the size and extent of the primary tumor
  • N – the spread to nearby lymph nodes
  • M – spread, or metastasis, to distant sites in the body

Numbers or letters may also follow TNM, with higher numbers meaning the kidney cancer is more advanced, to further detail each factor:

Metastatic kidney cancer means the cancer has spread from the place it formed (the kidneys) to another part of the body. In kidney cancer, the most common places that the disease spreads to is the lungs, lymph nodes and bones, according to the Kidney Cancer Association.

Prognostic Criteria

Other factors should be taken into consideration during staging, which are determined using two common systems: the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (MSKCC) criteria and the International Metastatic Renal Cell Carcinoma Database Consortium (IMDC) criteria. Both systems use factors, when combined, place patients into low-, intermediate- and high-risk groups.

MSKCC criteria include high blood lactate dehydrogenase, or LDH, level where certain tissues in a person’s body have been damaged by disease or injury; high blood calcium level, anemia, less than a year from diagnosis to the need for systemic treatment, and poor performance status of how well a person can do normal daily activities.

The IMDC system includes high white blood cell count, high platelet cell count, high blood calcium level, anemia, less than a year from diagnosis to the need for systemic treatment, and poor performance status.