Treatment for Kidney Cancer

Once a diagnosis of renal cell cancer has been confirmed and the disease's stage determined, physician and patient decide on a treatment plan. Factors that are considered include the patient's age and overall health and the extent to which the cancer has spread. For example, a patient with one healthy, functioning kidney and one afflicted with an aggressive stage 2 RCC is a more likely candidate for radical surgery than a patient with only one kidney and a less aggressive stage 1 cancer.

It is important that the patient and physician make an informed decision together after considering all possible options, side effects, and outcomes. A confident, positive outlook can help the patient cope with the physical demands of surgery and/or therapy and can improve the chances for recovery.

A second opinion can provide additional information in the decision-making process and help the patient feel that he or she has made the right choice. Some insurance companies require a second opinion before they approve payment for treatment.

Treatment options include the following:

  • Surgery (to remove cancerous tissue)
  • Chemotherapy (using drugs to destroy cancer cells)
  • Radiation therapy (using high-energy radiation to destroy cancer cells and shrink tumors)
  • Hormone therapy (using hormones to prevent cancer cell growth)
  • Biological or immunotherapy (using compounds produced by the body's immune system, or laboratory-produced copies of them, to destroy cancer cells)

Two or more forms of treatment may be used in combination, such as surgery to remove a primary tumor followed by radiation treatment or chemotherapy to kill cancer cells that may remain in the body.

Another form of treatment, called gene therapy, is being explored by researchers who think inherited genetic mutations may cause many cases of RCC. Eventually, a process that uses normal genes to overcome or reverse the cancer-causing process may be developed.

Kidney Cancer Follow-up Care & Recurrent Kidney Cancer

Patients who undergo kidney cancer surgery may experience a recurrence of the disease. For this reason, most patients undergo a regimen of follow-up examinations after surgery, typically at 3-month intervals for the first year. These examinations include a complete physical examination, chest x-ray, complete blood tests, and assessments of liver and kidney function.

If the disease recurs and remains confined to a few small areas, additional surgery may be recommended. Radiation therapy, biological therapy (immunotherapy), or chemotherapy may be used in addition to surgery (called adjuvant treatment) or to relieve symptoms (called palliative treatment).

Publication Review By: Stanley J. Swierzewski, III, M.D.

Published: 14 Jun 1998

Last Modified: 22 Sep 2015