Kidney Cancer Stages: What Do They Mean?

Kidney Cancer Stages: What Do They Mean?

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  • What Is Kidney Cancer?

    What Is Kidney Cancer?

    You have two kidneys, one on each side of the spine. These organs are responsible for filtering waste products from the blood and regulating fluid levels in the body.

    Kidney cancer is cancer that originates in one or both of your kidneys. Smoking, obesity, high blood pressure, and old age all raise the risk of kidney cancer. The size of the tumor and how much the cancer has spread determine the current stage of the disease.

    Click through the slideshow to get a better idea of what the stages mean.

  • TNM Staging System

    TNM Staging System

    The most frequently used system of describing the stages of kidney is the TNM system developed by the American Joint Committee on Cancer (AJCC). The American Cancer Society explains the acronym as follows:

    • T: stands for the tumor, its size, and whether it has grown
    • N: stands for the nodes in the lymph system. Cancer that has entered the lymph nodes will include an “N” in the stage description.
    • M: means the cancer has metastasized, or spread to other organs or tissue in the body.
  • Stage Groups

    Stage Groups

    Like other cancers, kidney cancer is described in four stages, which indicate the following:

    • stage 1: The cancer is still only in the kidney.
    • stage 2: The cancer is confined to the kidney, but the tumor is larger than seven cm across.
    • stage 3 and stage 4: These stages are more complicated to define. The size of the tumor or how much the cancer has spread will help define its stage, but other factors, such as age, determine your prognosis.


  • Stage 3 Kidney Cancer

    Stage 3 Kidney Cancer

    One definition of stage 3 kidney cancer is that the tumor has grown into a large vein or into the tissue that surrounds the kidney. That stage would be described as stage 3 T3, N0, M0.

    In stage 3 T1 to T3, N1, M0, the tumor can be any size. It also means the cancer may have spread into the surrounding tissue. That form of stage 3 cancer also indicates the cancer has spread to nearby lymph nodes.

  • Stage 4 Kidney Cancer

    Stage 4 Kidney Cancer

    Stage 4 kidney cancer is the most serious form of the disease. It indicates that the cancer may have spread into the adrenal gland, which sits on top of the kidney. Stage 4 kidney cancer also suggests that the cancer may have spread into more than one nearby lymph node or into distant lymph nodes or organs.

    Stage 4 cancer can be very difficult to treat. Surgery isn’t always an option, because the cancer may have spread too far.

  • UCLA Integrated Staging System

    UCLA Integrated Staging System

    The kidney cancer survival rate depends on more than just the stage of the disease. Overall physical health has a big impact on prognosis. The nature of the cancer cells also affects how the disease progresses.

    In 2001, doctors at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) came out with a system that included all these factors. The UCLA Integrated Staging System classifies patients as low-risk, intermediate-risk, and high-risk.

  • Factors Affecting Survival

    Factors Affecting Survival

    Survival rates for kidney cancer patients are affected by more than the stage of the disease. Your doctor will run many tests to gauge your overall health.

    A low red blood cell count, which indicates anemia, can hurt your prognosis. The same is true for high levels of calcium in the blood.

    If the disease is interfering with your ability to take care of everyday functions, that could indicate a poorer outlook.


  • Stay Strong

    Stay Strong

    While kidney cancer can be fatal, there are tens of thousands of people living with the disease. About 65,150 new cases of kidney cancer were diagnosed in the United States in 2013. About 13,680 people died from the disease in 2013, according to the American Cancer Society.

    Researchers continue to improve treatments aimed at slowing the progression of kidney cancer. More advanced imaging tests are also finding kidney cancers much earlier, which means that treatment can begin sooner.