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I've Just Been Told I Have Kidney Cancer

Older man and doctor in an exam room

Kidney cancer is cancer that begins in the kidneys. Like most types of cancer, it begins small and grows over time. Cancer cells may form a tumor that is limited to the kidney, or some cells may break away from the tumor and spread to other parts of the body. This spread is called metastasis. When kidney cancer spreads, it is known as metastatic kidney cancer. For example, if cancer spreads to the liver, the cancer cells are still kidney cancer cells, and are not due to liver cancer.

If the cancer spreads, it tends to go to the lymph nodes, lungs, bones, or liver. Occasionally, kidney cancer can spread to the brain.

People with kidney cancer now have more treatment choices and more hope for survival than ever before. Doctors keep finding new treatments for the cancer and ways to help people with it have a better life. Your doctor can use imaging tests or a biopsy to confirm that you have kidney cancer, but it's likely you'll need other tests to learn about how far the cancer has progressed and determine its stage.

To decide the best course of treatment for you, your health care team needs to know as much as they can about you and your cancer. This may involve getting some tests and working with more than one doctor or other type of health care professional. You may decide that you want to get a second opinion to help you which treatment options are best for you. In fact, some insurance companies require a second opinion for such diagnoses. According to the American Cancer Society, it is very rare that the time it will take to get a second opinion will have a negative impact on your treatment. The peace of mind a second opinion provides may be well worth the effort.  

Your health care team will likely include one or more of these specialists:

  • Urologist. A doctor who treats diseases of the kidney and urinary tract (usually with surgery).

  • Medical oncologist. A doctor who specializes in treating cancer with chemotherapy and other medications. 

  • Radiation oncologist. An oncologist who specializes in treating cancer with radiation.

They will answer any questions you may have and help you through each of the steps you'll take before, during, and after treatment. Your team will let you know what tests you need and the results of those tests. They'll guide you in making treatment decisions and help prepare you and your loved ones for what's ahead.


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