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What is a Renal Mass?

Mary McMahon
By
Updated May 17, 2024
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A renal mass is a growth on or in the kidney. Such masses are often diagnosed during radiological examination of the kidneys or surrounding area, which may be conducted for a variety of reasons. When a renal mass is identified, it is important to evaluate it to determine whether or not additional medical steps need to be taken. Such masses may be benign or malignant, and there are a number of treatment options available to deal with them.

Sometimes symptoms of kidney problems lead a doctor to order an ultrasound or similar medical imaging study of the kidneys to look for abnormalities. These symptoms can include difficulty urinating, frequent urination, tenderness in the abdomen, and electrolyte imbalances in the blood. In these instances, a mass will show up during the imaging study, and can be viewed in very clear detail with studies such as MRIs. In other instances, the mass is identified during a study for unrelated reasons in which kidney abnormalities are observed by the radiologist.

A mass on the kidney can take the form of a cyst, in which case it is generally filled with fluid and may contain some detritus, or it can be a solid growth. Benign tumors do sometimes occur in the kidneys, but a solid growth is more commonly a sign of a malignancy which should be addressed. If the imaging study suggests that the mass is solid, a doctor may recommend a biopsy to take a sample of the mass for analysis in a pathology laboratory. The analysis can be used to determine which kinds of cells are involved in the mass.

A cancerous renal mass usually needs to be removed. Removal of the entire kidney may be recommended, or it may be possible to perform an operation which preserves part of the kidney, depending on the size and position of the mass. Additional treatment such as radiation and chemotherapy can be used to kill malignant cells in the hopes that the mass will not recur after these treatments.

If the renal mass appears to be benign, a doctor may recommend monitoring of the mass. Benign masses can still interfere with kidney function and cause other health problems, which can make them a cause for concern. Ultimately, a patient may require dialysis or kidney transplant to replace a failing kidney if the mass grows large enough or impinges upon a key area of the kidneys.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WiseGeek researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By anon947954 — On Apr 28, 2014

I am a 35 year old male who has a family history of many types of cancer. After I was in a car accident, with injury to my spine and right leg, the MRI of spine shows a large renal mass on my right kidney. It is currently measured at 6 mms. What is the likelihood that it would be cancerous?

By anon318249 — On Feb 06, 2013

My husband was diagnosed with a renal and liver mass. Is this abnormal? He will have a ct scan soon. Is it more of a concern because it is also on the liver?

By anon291763 — On Sep 16, 2012

The doctor just discovered a two-inch solid mass on my kidney from a CT scan. the surgeon wants to cut me open and remove with no biopsy. Any opinions? I'm uninsured.

By jessica500 — On Apr 23, 2011

@honesuckle- How are they going to treat your friend's mass? Did they do at CT scan to diagnose it?

My friend who is a nurse said they should always do a CT scan to diagnose it (she said this is known as "renal mass protocol").

By honeysuckle — On Apr 20, 2011

A friend of mine was having pain and distention on her left side. She finally went to the doctor because she could not withstand the pain anymore. They ran some tests and told her that she has a small renal mass. She was told by her doctor that it is a type of kidney disease and she will be having a biopsy done.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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