Imaging of the Kidney Cancer


Because kidney cancer can spread to other organs of the body, early diagnosis and testing of this cancer are extremely important. In this sense, imaging of kidney cancer is also of great importance.

All approaches begin with a detailed and careful physical examination. A complete discussion of past and current medical problems should then be performed.

For more information about the diagnosis of Kidney Cancer, you can read:
Kidney Cancer Basics: Diagnosis


After all, if your doctor has a suspicion that you may have kidney cancer, he or she will always ask you for an imaging test and then carry out your treatment plan accordingly.

In this article, all the tests used for imaging of kidney cancer will be presented to you with all details.

1. Computed Tomography (CT Scan)

Computed Tomography (CT), commonly referred to as CAT scan, is a highly specialized test for imaging of internal organs and specific areas of the body. It is one of the primary imaging modalities used in the diagnosis of Renal Cell Carcinoma (RCC) and provides very accurate images of internal organs.

If an X-ray taken for any reason shows initial sign of a tumor such as thickening or a mass, or a finding suggesting a renal tumor during the physical examination, the next step is usually a Computed Tomography (CT) scan.

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a. Principles of Computed Tomography (CT)

Computed Tomography (CT) scans provide much more detailed results than ordinary x-ray tests. During Computed Tomography (CT) scanning, photos of your organs are taken one thin slice at a time from different angles.

Then, all the pictures taken are combined with special software on the computer. In this way, any abnormalities found in your internal organs can be detected with the features of localization and size.

b. Contrast Solutions

Contrast solutions such as barium may be given before this screening orally, to enhance the image of abdominal organs. An IV may also be placed to introduce such contrast dyes.

Generally, no pain associated with the Computed Tomography (CT) scan. However, sometimes IV contrast agents which given for enhancing the imaging can cause a sensation of hot or flushing.

Allergies to a contrast agent may be seen in some patients. Especially people who are allergic to iodine, are more prone to such an allergic reaction.

c. Precautions and Warnings

Depending on which part of the body to be imaged, dietary restrictions may be required before the screening.

In some cases, IV contrast agents may not be given during this procedure. The most critical of these conditions is that the kidney function is not in a certain range based on the creatinine level.

In the evaluation of this condition, some radiology departments may use a value called Estimated Glomerular Filtration Rate (eGFR).

For more information about the functions of the kidney, you can read:
What Kidneys Do?


If there is sufficient renal function for IV contrast agent administration, this will not be a problem.

2. Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)

Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scanning is a very advanced and special imaging method just like Computed Tomography (CT) scanning. It may even be better suited to assess certain parts of the body. Examples of these areas are bone, brain and spinal.

a. Principles of Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)

Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) creates accurate cross-section photographs of the organs in the body. However, it does not use x-rays like Computed Tomography (CT) scanning. It provides layer by layer examination by measuring the motion of water molecules with magnetic field energy. Since it does not use X-rays, it may be more advantageous in comparison to Computed Tomography (CT) scan.

Besides, Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scans usually take longer than Computed Tomography (CT) scans. In order to obtain the images accurately, you must lie still during the entire process.

And during scanning, the device works noisy. A headset may be provided to avoid disturbance of this noise.

b. Contrast Solutions

As with Computed Tomography (CT) scans, contrast can be used to enhance imaging in Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scans. The contrast agent used in these scans is usually gadolinium.

Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) also is associated with no pain. Here again, the contrast agent can be administered orally before the procedure or given IV during the scan.

Before Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scans, evaluating renal function may be discussed to determine whether the patient is suitable for contrast solution. Creatinine levels or Estimated Glomerular Filtration Rate (eGFR) can be used to evaluate renal function, although it varies according to the radiology department.

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c. Precautions and Warnings

The Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scan creates a magnetic field with using a very strong magnet to produce images.

Normally, this has no harm to patients. However, people with metal within their bodies such as hip replacement, pacemakers, or metal plates, should discuss this with their doctor and Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) technician before scanning. If it is determined that such metal in the body is suitable for Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scanning, the procedure can be performed without problems.

Besides, this screening procedure can be challenging for people who do not like to stay closed-in spaces, as Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scan require the patient lie still for a long time and in a narrow space.

3. Bone Scan

Bone Scan can be used to check whether cancer has spread to the bones. This procedure is performed by introducing very small amounts of radioactive material through the veins into the bloodstream.

For more information about the metastasis of Kidney Cancer, you can read:
Kidney Cancer Basics: Metastasis


This contrast substance, which is given into the veins, is carried to the bones and accumulates in places where the activity and metabolism are high.

This method can detect both cancerous and non-cancerous conditions. However, it cannot distinguish between cancerous and non-cancerous diseases such as arthritis.

In some cases, bone metastases of Renal Cell Carcinoma (RCC) do not show up in the Bone Scan. Therefore, this screening test is not usually used alone, it is ordered in addition to Computed Tomography (CT) or X-ray procedures.

4. Positron Emission Tomography (PET) Scan

The last procedure in the imaging of kidney cancer is Positron Emission Tomography (PET) Scan.
It is a highly specialized diagnostic study that provides information on how extensively cancer has spread throughout the body. It performs this process by evaluating certain activities of the cells.

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Although Positron Emission Tomography (PET) scans have been used as a standard in many cancers such as breast, colorectal, ovarian, lymphoma, lung, melanoma, and

head and neck cancer, the effectiveness of using it in kidney cancer are still under discussion.

Unlike Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) and Computed Tomography (CT), Positron Emission Tomography (PET) scans perform imaging based on chemical and physiological changes related to the activity of the cells. This is extremely important because chemical and physiological changes generally occur in cells within the structure of tissues, before conditions such as cancer.

As a result, Positron Emission Tomography (PET) scans help doctors to make a differential diagnosis of benign and malignant tumors and determine the stage of cancer spread in the patient.

For more information about the stages of Kidney Cancer, you can read:
Kidney Cancer Basics: Stages


In addition, Positron Emission Tomography (PET) scans can be used to measure the effectiveness of the therapy given during the whole treatment process.

Positron Emission Tomography (PET) scans are often used in combination with Computed Tomography (CT) and Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI), and the duration of it can range from 15 minutes to 2 hours, depending on which part of the body being screened.

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