Cancer stages indicate how much a person’s cancer has spread. If the individual has stage 1 kidney cancer, the disease has not spread outside their kidneys. Treatment at this stage may improve a person’s outlook.

The American Cancer Society (ACS) estimates that doctors will diagnose around 81,800 new cases of kidney cancer in the United States in 2023. The most common form of kidney cancer is renal cell carcinoma (RCC).

This article discusses how healthcare professionals stage kidney cancer. It also explores stage 1 kidney cancer, including its symptoms, duration, treatments, and outlook.

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When healthcare professionals diagnose kidney cancer, they will also try to determine if the disease has spread, and if so, how far. They refer to this process as staging.

Doctors measure kidney cancer stages on a scale from 1 to 4. The higher the stage, the further the disease has spread. A doctor may use staging to help decide what treatment to use and to determine a person’s potential outlook.

TNM system

The ACS notes that healthcare professionals most often use the American Joint Committee on Cancer (AJCC) TNM system when staging cancer. The TNM system uses the following criteria:

  • Tumor (T): This indicates the size and extent of the main tumor.
  • Nodes (N): This notes whether the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes or not.
  • Metastasis (M): This indicates the spread of the cancer to other organs or body parts.

A doctor assigns a number or letter to each category, for example, T1, N0, and M0, to evaluate the overall cancer stage.

Tests for staging cancer

A doctor may use various tests to stage a person’s cancer. These tests may include:

The ACS notes that people in the early stages of kidney cancer typically do not experience any symptoms. Instead, symptoms may develop as the tumor grows.

Possible signs of kidney cancer include:

Healthcare professionals classify stage 1 kidney cancer with the values T1, N0, and M0 using the TNM system. These values indicate that the tumor is 7 centimeters (cm) long or less and has not spread outside the kidney.

Without treatment, a person’s kidney cancer remains at stage 1 until the tumor begins to grow or spread. If the disease no longer fits the criteria of stage 1, a doctor may reassess it.

A person’s tumor needs to become larger than 7 cm for a doctor to classify it as stage 2. However, if the disease spreads to nearby lymph nodes, a doctor will classify it as stage 3, regardless of tumor size.

The authors of a 2016 study involving 45 people with renal cell cancer (RCC) noted that tumors grew at an average rate of around 0.79 cm annually.

A person can speak with their doctor for information about how fast RCC tumors may grow on an individual basis.

A doctor may recommend a range of treatments for someone with stage 1 kidney cancer. The type of treatment may depend on certain factors, such as the person’s age and suitability for surgery.

In addition to the treatment options below, a person may consider taking part in a clinical trial for new types of treatment.


Surgery for stage 1 kidney cancer may include:

  • partial nephrectomy, where a surgeon removes the tumor and surrounding tissue
  • simple nephrectomy, which involves removing the entire kidney
  • radical nephrectomy, where a surgeon removes the kidney, adrenal gland, surrounding tissue, and nearby lymph nodes

Learn more about nephrectomy due to cancer.

Radiation therapy

A person may undergo radiation therapy to treat symptoms of stage 1 kidney cancer if they cannot have surgery. In this type of therapy, doctors use radiation to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors.

Arterial embolization

During arterial embolization, a surgeon inserts a thin tube into an artery in a person’s inner thigh. They then inject tiny particles into the artery, blocking the blood flow to the area. This may help shrink the tumor, as it no longer has access to oxygen or other substances that help it grow.

The ACS notes that people with localized, or early stage, kidney cancer may have a 5-year survival rate of 93%.

Early diagnosis of kidney cancer may help improve a person’s survival outcomes. However, other factors can affect their outlook, such as:

  • age
  • overall health
  • how the cancer responds to treatment
  • genetic mutations in the cancer cells

When a healthcare professional diagnoses kidney cancer, they typically assign a cancer stage according to the TNM system. Doctors use stage 1 kidney cancer to describe when a person has a kidney tumor measuring 7 cm or less, with no cancer cells outside the kidney.

Generally, people with stage 1 kidney cancer have no symptoms. While the outlook for someone with this disease is generally positive, individual factors can affect it.

Early diagnosis and treatment of stage 1 kidney cancer may improve a person’s outlook. People can speak with a healthcare professional who can assess their individual risk factors for this disease and identify the cause of any symptoms.

A doctor can also provide individual recommendations about treatment and outlooks for people with stage 1 kidney cancer.