About radiotherapy for kidney cancer

Radiotherapy uses high-energy rays to destroy cancer cells.

You may have radiotherapy to:

  • control kidney cancer that cannot be removed with surgery
  • treat the symptoms of kidney cancer – such as bleeding
  • treat kidney cancer cells that have spread to other parts of the body – such as the lung, brain or bones.

Sometimes you have radiotherapy as part of a clinical trial.

When you have radiotherapy to control a cancer, treat symptoms or treat cancer that has spread to other parts of the body, it is called palliative radiotherapy.

Palliative radiotherapy may be given to control the cancer for longer when it is not possible to cure it.

Types of radiotherapy for kidney cancer

Radiotherapy for kidney cancer is given using a radiotherapy machine outside the body. This is called external beam radiotherapy. There are different ways of having external radiotherapy:

  • Intensity-modulated radiation therapy (IMRT) and volumetric modulated arc therapy (VMAT)

    IMRT and VMAT both shape the radiotherapy beams to give different doses of radiotherapy to different parts of the treatment area. This means lower doses of radiotherapy are given to the healthy tissue surrounding the tumour.

  • Stereotactic ablative body radiotherapy (SABR)

    SABR is sometimes called stereotactic body radiation therapy (SBRT). It uses many small beams of radiation to target the cancer. This makes it very precise. It means high doses of radiotherapy can be given to very small areas. This can reduce the risk of side effects.

Your clinical oncologist or radiologist can tell you more about these radiotherapy treatments and whether they are suitable for you.

Some treatments may not be available in all radiotherapy centres. If a type of radiotherapy is not available at your local hospital, your doctors may arrange for you to have it at another treatment centre.

Having radiotherapy for kidney cancer

You usually have radiotherapy as an outpatient. You usually have it as sessions called fractions. Your doctors will explain how many fractions you will have. You may only need one fraction.

Side effects of radiotherapy for kidney cancer

Radiotherapy can cause tiredness. Other side effects depend on the part of the body being treated. When radiotherapy is given to relieve symptoms, the side effects are usually mild. The doctor who plans your radiotherapy (clinical oncologist) or a specialist nurse will tell you what to expect. Usually side effects go away slowly when your course of treatment has finished. You should let your doctor know if they continue.

We have more information about radiotherapy.

Getting support

Macmillan is here to support you. If you would like to talk, you can:

About our information

  • References

    Below is a sample of the sources used in our kidney cancer information. If you would like more information about the sources we use, please contact us at cancerinformationteam@macmillan.org.uk

    Escudier B, et al. Renal cell carcinoma: ESMO Clinical Practice Guidelines for diagnosis, treatment and follow-up. Annals of Oncology 30: 706-720, 2019. doi:10.1093/annonc/mdz056 Published online 21 February 2019. Available from www.annalsofoncology.org/action/showPdf?pii=S0923-7534%2819%2931157-3 (accessed April 2021).

    European Association of Urology. Renal cell carcinoma guidelines. EAU Guidelines. Edn. presented at the EAU Annual Congress Milan 2021. ISBN 978-94-92671-13-4. Available from www.uroweb.org/guideline/renal-cell-carcinoma (accessed April 2021).

    National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE): Nivolumab with ipilimumab for untreated advanced renal cell carcinoma. Technology appraisal guidance (TA581). Published 15 May 2019. Available from www.nice.org.uk/guidance/ta581 (accessed April 2021).

  • Reviewers

    This information has been written, revised and edited by Macmillan Cancer Support’s Cancer Information Development team. It has been reviewed by expert medical and health professionals and people living with cancer. It has been approved by Senior Medical Editor, Dr Lisa Pickering, Consultant Medical Oncologist.

    Our cancer information has been awarded the PIF TICK. Created by the Patient Information Forum, this quality mark shows we meet PIF’s 10 criteria for trustworthy health information.

Date reviewed

Reviewed: 01 November 2021
Next review: 01 November 2024
Trusted Information Creator - Patient Information Forum
Trusted Information Creator - Patient Information Forum

Our cancer information meets the PIF TICK quality mark.

This means it is easy to use, up-to-date and based on the latest evidence. Learn more about how we produce our information.