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After kidney cancer is diagnosed, the physician will assign a stage to the tumor based on its size, location and whether it has spread beyond the affected kidney. To determine the stage, the physician will gather information by ordering a series of tests, such as blood work, a urinalysis, imaging scans and a biopsy.

The kidney cancer staging process provides a common language for describing tumors, which helps physicians identify patients with tumors in similar stages so they can review clinical studies of those patients. As a result, physicians can better predict how a patient’s cancer may behave and which treatments may be most effective. Staging information is an important consideration when determining the optimal treatment plan.

How is kidney cancer staged?

The staging system most frequently used for kidney cancer is the American Joint Committee on Cancer (AJCC) TNM system, which takes into account three key factors:

  • The size and extent of the primary tumor (T)
  • The spread of the cancer to nearby lymph nodes (N)
  • The metastasis of the cancer to distant sites (M)

Once the T, N and M categories have been determined, the physician will compile the information in a process called stage grouping to assign an overall cancer stage.

Stages of kidney cancer


The numerical scale

The TMN staging system uses a numerical scale in which a higher number signifies a more advanced tumor. The main stages of kidney cancer are:

Stage 1 Kidney Cancer

At this stage, the tumor is smaller than a tennis ball (less than 3 inches in diameter) and the cancerous cells are confined to the affected kidney. The most appropriate treatment approach may be a partial nephrectomy to remove the portion of the kidney that contains the tumor.

Stage 2 Kidney Cancer

At this stage, the tumor has grown larger than a tennis ball but the cancerous cells remain confined to the affected kidney. A radical nephrectomy may be considered to remove the entire kidney.

Stage 3 Kidney Cancer

At this stage, cancerous cells from a tumor of any size have spread beyond the affected kidney to nearby lymph nodes or blood vessels, such as the renal vein or inferior vena cava. A radical nephrectomy may be considered to remove the affected kidney, lymph nodes and other tissues.

Stage 4 Kidney Cancer

At this advanced stage, cancerous cells from a tumor of any size have spread to the adrenal gland on top of the affected kidney, invaded the surrounding fibrous tissues and layers of fat or metastasized to distant tissues or organs. In addition to surgery, other treatment options such as immunotherapy and targeted therapy may be considered. The goal of immunotherapy is to boost the body’s immune system to help it recognize and destroy the cancerous cells. The goal of medication-based targeted therapy is to destroy growth-factor molecules found on or inside the cancerous cells to prevent the cells from growing and thriving.

Moving forward

Once the stage of the kidney tumor is determined, it is important for the patient to begin treatment as soon as possible. As with any type of cancer, the goals of kidney cancer treatment are to help the patient achieve the best possible outcome and quality of life. In most cases, kidney cancer treatment involves a partial or radical nephrectomy.

For patients who are not surgical candidates, ablation may be an alternative. This treatment approach involves destroying the cancerous cells with extreme cold (cryosurgery) or heat (radiofrequency ablation). Radiation therapy may also be administered to ease the pain associated with kidney cancer.

Kidney cancer outcomes

At Moffitt Cancer Center, we want each patient to begin their treatment with complete confidence, clarity and trust in us. Toward that end, we prioritize patient education and transparent communication. We understand that many of our patients and their families are interested in survival data, and we are happy to share it.

With that said, we want every patient to understand that the kidney cancer survival rate is a statistical average only and should be viewed as nothing more. The results of individual cases can vary widely depending on a multitude of unique factors, including the patient’s general health and the specific characteristics of the tumor. It’s also important to keep in mind that the five-year kidney cancer survival rate is based on the past five years—it does not take into account the latest advances in treatment and clinical trials, which today’s patients have access to. In general, cancer survival rates improve over time.

We encourage each patient who is interested in the overall kidney cancer survival rate to discuss it with their physician, who is familiar with their case and can put the information in the proper context to make it meaningful. Ultimately, some people find statistical information to be helpful, but others do not.

Moffitt is proud to share that our kidney cancer treatment outcomes consistently exceed the national averages. Our patients benefit from our ongoing commitment to remaining on the leading edge of kidney cancer research and our robust portfolio of clinical trials. In recognition of our groundbreaking achievements and continuing success, the National Cancer Center has awarded Moffitt the prestigious designation of Comprehensive Cancer Center. Every day, we come one step closer to finding a cure.

Moffitt’s approach to kidney cancer

The pathologists and radiologists in Moffitt’s Urologic Oncology Program are kidney cancer experts. They specialize in gathering and analyzing the information needed to provide each patient with an accurate and detailed diagnosis. These outstanding medical professionals have extensive experience in working with every stage of kidney cancer; as such, they can identify minute details that allow us to prepare highly refined treatment recommendations.

To learn more about kidney cancer stages and treatment options, contact Moffitt Cancer Center at 1-888-663-3488 or complete our new patient registration form online. We will connect you with an expert in our Urologic Oncology Program as soon as possible, and you do not need a referral.


American Cancer Society – Kidney Cancer Stages
Cancer Treatment Centers of American – Kidney Cancer Stages