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 help your healthcare providers learn more about your overall health and 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 scan

Imaging tests

Chest X-ray

A chest X-ray is done to look for 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.

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. A computer makes these echoes into images. 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 a mildly radioactive form of sugar (glucose) or it's put into your blood through a vein. 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 narrow table that slowly slides through the ring-shaped PET scanner. Other than the injection, a PET scan is painless.

Bone scan

This test may be done if your healthcare provider thinks the cancer might have spread to your bones. A small amount of a radioactive substance is put into a vein in your hand or arm. It travels through your blood and collects in bones where there is damage. Then the scan is done to show these areas. The damage may be from cancer or other things, 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 taking 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's often 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 3-D pictures of the inside of your body. You may need to drink a contrast dye or it may be put into your blood through a vein. The dye 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 put into a vein to help show details clearly. MRI might be done if you can't have a CT scan. It's also very good at showing whether the cancer has grown into major blood vessels, the brain, or spinal cord.

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: Heather M Trevino BSN RNC
Online Medical Reviewer: Kimberly Stump-Sutliff RN MSN AOCNS
Online Medical Reviewer: Todd Gersten MD
Date Last Reviewed: 3/1/2021
© 2023 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.