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Monitoring kidney cancer

This page is about monitoring (active surveillance) for kidney cancer. There is information about


A quick guide to what's on this page

Some kidney cancers are found when patients have scans for other reasons. Many of these tumours are small and some may not cause any problems for a long time even without treatment. Small kidney cancers are very unlikely to spread into surrounding tissue or elsewhere in the body.

So if you have a kidney cancer that is less than 3 cm, your doctor may advise having no treatment at first. But they will watch the cancer carefully. You have regular scans to see if the cancer grows. Doctors call this active surveillance.

If the cancer starts to grow you usually have treatment to destroy or remove it. There is information about treatments for kidney cancer in this section.


CR PDF Icon You can view and print all the quick guides for the pages in the Treating kidney cancer section.



Small kidney cancers

Some kidney cancers are found when they are very small. Doctors call them small renal masses.

You may have a small kidney cancer found if you have a scan for another reason. Some small cancers may not cause any problems for a long time, even without treatment and they are very unlikely to spread into surrounding tissue or elsewhere in the body. If they don't grow, they may not need treating at all.

So in some patients with kidney cancers less than 3 cm across (just over an inch), doctors may want to wait to see whether the cancer is going to develop, rather than treat it straight away. You will then avoid unnecessary treatments that could affect your quality of life. They will watch the cancer carefully to see if it grows. They call this active surveillance. But you may also hear it called monitoring, observation, or watchful waiting.



If you have a small kidney cancer found on a scan, you usually have another scan of the kidney and urinary system between 3 and 6 months later.  This is called a CT urogram. If the cancer has not grown, your doctor will talk to you about a plan for further regular scans to check whether it has started to grow. These scans are usually every 6 to 12 months.


If the cancer starts to grow

If the cancer starts to grow or is bigger than about 4 cm your doctor will suggest treatment to destroy or remove it. Treatment choices can include surgery, cryotherapy or radiofrequency ablation. The links will take you to information about these treatments in this section.


How you may feel

Some people find it very stressful to know that they have a cancer and be told they don't need treatment straight away. It can help to talk this through with your doctor or specialist nurse. They can reassure you and explain how often you will have checks and what the treatment options may be if the cancer starts to grow.


What you can do for yourself

During monitoring, there are some things you can do to help you feel you are doing something positive and also keep you healthy. You can 

  • Eat a healthy diet
  • Try to learn to relax
  • Try to stop smoking
  • Take notice of any new symptoms and report them to your doctor

A diet high in fresh fruit and vegetables and fish, and lower in animal fats is better for your health, including being good for your heart.

There is currently no hard evidence linking stress to cancer. But this can be a stressful situation for some people and relaxation will help you feel better and probably cope better too. You could find a new hobby or try relaxation techniques.

Smoking is linked to kidney cancer. Along with stopping smoking, making changes like these to your lifestyle will help you to feel more in control of your situation. You are taking positive steps to improve your health and that is a good thing.

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Updated: 27 January 2016