Kidney Cancer (Adult) Renal Cell Carcinoma Overview

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Early Detection, Diagnosis, and Staging TOPICS

Staging of kidney cancer

Staging is the process of finding out how far the cancer has spread. This is very important because your treatment and the outlook for your recovery depend, to a large extent, on the stage of your cancer.

Staging is based on the results of the physical exam, biopsies, and imaging tests (CT scan, chest x-ray, PET scan, etc.), which are described in the section, “How is kidney cancer found?

There are actually 2 types of staging for kidney cancer. The clinical stage is your doctor’s best idea of the extent of your disease, based on the results of the physical exam, lab tests, and any imaging studies you have had. If you have surgery, your doctors can also find out the pathologic stage, which is based on the same factors as the clinical stage, plus what is found during surgery and how the removed tissue looks under a microscope. This means that if you have surgery the stage of your cancer might change – for example, if it has spread farther than was thought at first.

The AJCC staging system (sometimes also known as the TNM system) for kidney cancer uses Roman numerals from I through IV (1-4) to describe the extent of the disease. As a rule, the lower the number, the less the cancer has spread. A higher number, such as stage IV, means a more serious cancer. Ask your doctor to explain the stage of your cancer in a way you can understand.

Your doctor will take into account both the grade and stage of your cancer when recommending a treatment plan. If your doctor uses a staging system other than the one mentioned above, ask to have it explained in terms you can understand.


Last Medical Review: 11/27/2012
Last Revised: 04/01/2014