What Are the Stages of Kidney Cancer?

Staging is the term oncologists use to define the current location, aggressiveness and invasion of your cancer. Once the stage of kidney cancer is determined, your physician can recommend a particular course of treatment.

Most cancer teams use the system developed by the American Joint Committee on Cancer, known as the TNM staging system.

T = Tumor: Where is the primary tumor and how large is it?

N = Nodes: Has the tumor spread to nearby lymph nodes?

M = Metastasis: Has cancer spread to other parts of the body?

For each letter, there are five numbered stages, from 0 to 4, depending on how much the cancer has spread. The lower the number, the more the cancer cells look like normal cells and the easier they are to treat and cure. A higher number means it has spread more deeply.

The place where cancer originates is called the primary site. Cancer can spread from the primary site to other parts of the body. It’s important to understand that even if kidney cancer is found in other parts of your body, it’s still considered kidney cancer. For instance, if colon cancer has spread to the liver, it’s called metastatic colon cancer, not liver cancer.

To form the best treatment plan for you, pathologists may also study how the cells look, this is known as the grade of the cancer. A pathologist will determine the cancer’s grade (low or high). For kidney cancer, the pathologist will tell us what type of kidney cancer we are treating. After the kind of cancer, the stage is determined with pathology and imaging. Once the stage is determined, a treatment plan will be developed for you based on your goals and choices.