What Are the Different Kidney Cancer Stages?

Meshell Powell

Kidney cancer is a serious life-threatening medical condition in which abnormal cancer cells grow and multiply in one or both kidneys, sometimes spreading into other areas of the body. There are four basic kidney cancer stages, and determining the stage is vital when deciding upon the most appropriate treatment options. In stages one and two, the cancer is isolated to the kidney itself. Kidney cancer stages three and four involve the kidney as well as surrounding tissues or lymph nodes and may even spread to other organs throughout the body.

An example of a healthy kidney and one with cancer.
An example of a healthy kidney and one with cancer.

The earliest kidney cancer stages are stages one and two. In stage one, the tumor is no larger than a tennis ball, about seven centimeters. There are no cancer cells found outside of the affected kidney. Stage two is similar, except that the tumor is larger than seven centimeters. The tumor is still located only within the kidney itself. These kidney cancer stages are the easiest to treat, and surgical intervention to remove the tumors is often all that is necessary.

Each of the kidney cancer stages requires individulaized treatment.
Each of the kidney cancer stages requires individulaized treatment.

Stage three is one of the more complicated kidney cancer stages. In some cases, the cancerous tumor is still confined to the kidney, although some of the cancerous cells may have made their way into the surrounding lymph glands. In other cases, the tumor may spread into the nearby adrenal gland and may also be found in one lymph gland. Another possible scenario with stage three kidney cancer is that the cancer spreads from the kidney into one of the large blood vessels, often affecting one lymph node as well.

Stage four is the most dangerous of all the kidney cancer stages. In this stage, the cancer may move through the kidney as well as the fibrous tissue which surrounds the kidney. It is also possible for the cancer to move into several surrounding lymph nodes instead of just one lymph node. In the most severe cases, the cancer may spread to other organs of the body.

Each of the kidney cancer stages requires individualized treatment. The most common types of treatment include surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy. Some patients may qualify for clinical trials in which new experimental drugs are used in an attempt to treat the disease. Any questions or concerns about the various kidney cancer stages or the most appropriate treatment options in an individual situation should be discussed with a doctor or other medical professional.

Lymph fluid can collect cancer cells and transport them throughout the lymphatic vessels to the lymph nodes.
Lymph fluid can collect cancer cells and transport them throughout the lymphatic vessels to the lymph nodes.

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Discussion Comments


@pastanaga - The organs are all tucked together quite neatly, but at the same time it can still be difficult to see a tumor, depending on how it is placed. I believe the kidneys are right below the ribcage and that could lead to a tumor not being noticed. Or it might point up into the body rather than out.

A doctor knows where everything should be and would be able to palpitate the abdomen and discover any largish tumors I believe.

However, I wouldn't rely on being able to see a tumor before it gets dangerous. Even small tumors could become metastatic kidney cancer, and if you are at stage four that's much more difficult to treat.


@pastanaga - I believe the seven centimeter mark is there because of the size of the kidney. If you have a look at diagrams on the internet, it's at about seven centimeters that the tumor starts to really press against the wall of the kidney.

I'm sure it does damage before then, certainly, but after that point, while it still might be contained within the kidney, it will be causing the person some discomfort and certainly making it more difficult for the kidney to do its job.

I think for the most part, stage one and stage two are mostly a matter of degrees.

Once it gets to stage three and you have cancer invading the lymph nodes, that's when you really have to start worrying, if you weren't already.


I can't believe that cancer of the kidney is so large. Even stage one can be up to seven centimeters long!

That just seems very big considering the human kidney itself is around that size. And if stage two is even bigger, but still contained within the kidney, I can imagine it does a lot of damage.

I know one of the first signs of kidney cancer can be a lump in the stomach and I often wondered how you would even notice this, as I assumed the cancer would be quite small.

But a tumor with a seven centimeter diameter is certainly going to be noticeable.

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