Kidney Cancer Misdiagnosis

About 65,000 new cases of kidney cancer, or renal cancer, are diagnosed in the United States each year, resulting in about 13,000 deaths. Kidney cancer seems to be on the rise; however this may be due to the increased use of CT scans, which catch more cases of kidney cancer than most other methods. Due to improvements in diagnostic procedures and treatments about 200,000 people living in the United States today are kidney cancer survivors.

Types of Kidney Cancer

Wilms Cell is a type of kidney cancer that most often affects children under the age of five. Like most cancers, the cause is unknown, but a defect in the DNA during development results in the growth of the tumor. Usually only one kidney is affected. Certain birth defects, such as abnormalities in the genitals or urinary tract, can put children at greater risk for development of Wilms tumor.

Renal cell carcinoma and renal pelvis carcinoma are types of kidney cancer that most often form in adults. Renal cell carcinoma is more common, and begins in the lining of the tubules of the kidney. Smoking, dialysis, high blood pressure, and family history of the disease can put patients at greater risk for development of renal cell carcinoma.

Renal pelvis carcinoma usually forms in the tube that carries urine from the kidneys to the bladder. This type of cancer is most common in men over the age of 65. Smoking, exposure to certain dyes, and family history of bladder cancer may be contributing factors to development of renal pelvis carcinoma.

Diagnosing Kidney Cancer

Symptoms that may alert physicians to the possibility of kidney cancer include:

  • Low back pain that cannot be explained
  • Mass on the back
  • Weight loss
  • Fever
  • Anemia
  • Fatigue


Kidney cancer often does not cause any symptoms in early stages. When symptoms do occur, they are common of other, less harmful, ailments, and are often misinterpreted by physicians. Testing is required to diagnose kidney cancer.

Blood and urine tests, imaging tests, and biopsies can all be helpful in diagnosing kidney cancer. Urine tests will sometimes reveal cancer cells, but most often show blood in the urine that may not be visible to the naked eye. Blood tests will sometimes reveal abnormalities in the blood of patients that have kidney cancer, such as anemia or polycythemia. These results may prompt physicians to do further testing to form a complete diagnosis.

Imaging tests, such as CT scans and MRIs can help doctors to spot a mass in the kidney. Unlike with many cancers, doctors can sometimes form a reasonable certainty that these masses are cancerous from the results of imaging tests, without doing a biopsy. Chest X-rays and bone scans may also help doctors to determine whether the cancer has spread into other regions of the body.

Biopsies are often not needed to diagnose kidney cancer, but are sometimes helpful in determining the aggressiveness of the cancer. Determining the aggressiveness can help doctors to decide whether it is necessary to do surgery to remove a kidney or tumor from a kidney. In some cases the cancer can be treated less invasively and be watched for growth.

Misdiagnosis of Kidney Cancer

In many cases, kidney cancer is misdiagnosed as a less harmful condition. The reason for misdiagnosis is usually that the physician made the diagnosis based on symptoms, without doing further testing. If treatment for a diagnosed condition is not yielding results, imaging tests may be helpful in producing a correct diagnosis of kidney cancer.

The symptoms of kidney cancer are also common of these diseases, resulting in misdiagnosis:

  • Kidney infection
  • Kidney cyst
  • Bladder infection
  • Urinary tract infection
  • Renal infarction
  • Irritable bowel syndrome


A misdiagnosis can be harmful to the patient, as the kidney cancer is being allowed to spread and grow as the patient is treated for a non-existent condition. If the kidney cancer goes too long without a correct diagnosis, surgery may not be a helpful option, and treatment may become more difficult. In some cases, the patient dies before the diagnosis can be corrected.




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“Kidney Cancer.” National Cancer Institute. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, n.d. Web. 14 Nov 2013. <>.

“Misdiagnosis of Kidney Cancer.” Right Diagnosis. Health Grades, 07 May 2013. Web. 14 Nov 2013. <>.