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Kidney Cancer: Tests After Diagnosis

What tests might I have after being diagnosed?

After a diagnosis of kidney cancer, you'll likely need other tests. These tests help your healthcare providers learn more about the cancer. They can help show if the cancer has grown into nearby areas or spread to other parts of your body. The test results help your healthcare providers decide the best ways to treat the cancer. If you have any questions about these or other tests, be sure to talk with your healthcare team.

The tests you have may include:

  • Chest X-ray

  • Abdominal (belly) ultrasound

  • Positron emission tomography (PET) scan

  • Bone scan

  • Renal angiogram

  • CT scan

  • MRI

Imaging tests

Chest X-ray

A chest X-ray is done to see if there are any changes in your lungs. These might be a sign that the kidney cancer has spread to your lungs or chest. An X-ray uses a small amount of radiation to make an image of organs and bones inside your body. It can show enlarged lymph nodes in your chest. This test takes a few minutes and causes no pain.

Abdominal ultrasound

Ultrasound uses sound waves to create images of your insides. For this test, a gel is put on your belly and a small wand called a transducer is pressed on your skin to look at your abdominal organs (those inside your belly). The transducer gives off sound waves and picks up the echoes as they bounce off the tissues. This test can be used to help figure out if the cancer has spread from your kidneys to other organs, such as the liver.

Positron emission tomography (PET) scan

A PET scan can look at your entire body. For this test, you either swallow or are injected with a mildly radioactive form of sugar (glucose). The PET scan will show where in your body the glucose is being used the most. This helps find active cells that are dividing quickly, like cancer cells. You’ll lie still on a table that's slid into the PET scanner. It will rotate around you and take pictures. Other than the injection, a PET scan is painless.

Bone scan

This test shows whether the cancer has spread to your bones. A small amount of a radioactive substance is put into a vein. It travels through the blood vessels and collects in areas of the bones where there is damage. Then pictures are taken to show these areas. The damage may be from cancer or other conditions like arthritis. More testing may be needed to find the exact cause of the bone changes.

Renal angiogram

This is a type of X-ray that uses a dye to get pictures of the blood vessels that are sending blood to the kidney tumor. The dye is put into the artery that leads into your kidney. X-rays are then taken to map the flow of the dye. This test helps healthcare providers plan surgery to take out the tumor. It can also be done as part of a CT or MRI scan.

CT scan

A CT scan uses a series of X-rays and a computer to make detailed pictures of the inside of the body. You may need to drink a contrast dye or it may be injected into a vein. The contrast helps show more details.

Some newer machines can do PET and CT scans at the same time. This allows areas that show up on the PET scan to be compared with the more detailed image of the CT scan.


An MRI uses large magnets, radio waves, and a computer to make detailed pictures of the inside of your body. Contrast dye may be injected into a vein. It helps show details clearly.

Working with your healthcare provider

Your healthcare provider will talk with you about which tests you'll have. Make sure to prepare for the tests as instructed. Ask questions and talk about any concerns you have.

Online Medical Reviewer: Kimberly Stump-Sutliff RN MSN AOCNS
Online Medical Reviewer: Lu Cunningham
Online Medical Reviewer: Richard LoCicero MD
Date Last Reviewed: 2/1/2019
© 2021 The StayWell Company, LLC. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare provider's instructions.