Kidney Cancer Treatment

Treatment depends on the stage of the disease, the patient’s general health and age and other factors. You may be treated by a team of specialists including a urologist, an oncologist (cancer specialist) and a radiation oncologist. Kidney cancer is usually treated with surgery, radiation therapy, biological therapy, and chemotherapy or hormone therapy. Sometimes, a combination of methods may be used.

Surgery:  The most common treatment for kidney cancer. Most often, the whole kidney is removed along with the adrenal gland and the tissue around the kidney. Some lymph nodes in the area may also be removed. The remaining kidney is usually able to perform the work of both kidneys. In some cases, the surgeon only removes the part of the kidney that contains the tumor.

Arterial embolization:  This procedure is sometimes done before surgery to make surgery easier. A special gelatin sponge material is injected through a plastic tube to clog the main kidney blood vessel. This shrinks the tumor by taking away the oxygen-carrying blood and other substances it needs to grow.
Radiation Therapy:  This treatment uses high-energy rays to kill cancer cells. Doctors sometimes use it to relieve pain when kidney cancer has spread to the bone. Most often, this treatment is given on an outpatient basis in a hospital or clinic five days a week for several weeks.

Biologic Therapy:  This is also called immunotherapy. It is a form of treatment that uses the body’s natural ability (immune system) to fight cancer. Interleukin-2 and interferon are types of therapy used to treat advanced kidney cancer. Many people having biologic therapy stay in the hospital during treatment so that the side effects can be monitored.

Chemotherapy:  This is the use of drugs to kill cancer cells. Although useful in the treatment of many other cancers, chemotherapy has shown only limited effectiveness against kidney cancer. 

Hormone Therapy:  This is used in a small number of patients with advanced kidney cancer. Some kidney cancers may be treated with hormones to try to control the growth of cancer cells. 

Eating well during cancer treatment means getting enough calories and protein to help prevent weight loss and regain strength. Patients who eat well often feel better and have more energy. Some people find it hard to eat well during treatment. They may lose their appetite or have side effects like nausea, vomiting or mouth sores, which can make eating difficult. For some people, food tastes different. Others may not feel like eating because they feel uncomfortable or tired. Doctors, nurses and dietitians can offer advice for healthy eating during cancer treatment.

Many people with kidney cancer take part in clinical trials (treatment studies). Doctors conduct clinical trials to learn about the effectiveness and side effects of new treatments. In some trials, all patients receive the new treatment, but in others, doctors compare different methods by giving the new treatment to one group and the standard treatment to another group. If you are interested in taking part in a clinical trial, speak to your doctor.

Because treatments damage healthy cells and tissues in addition to the cancer cells, they often cause unwanted side effects. The side effects depend mainly on the type and extent of the treatment. Also, side effects may not be the same for everyone. Doctors and nurses can explain possible side effects of treatment, and they can help relieve problems that may occur during and after treatment. Tell your doctor about any side affects you are having as some may need immediate medical attention.