Treatment overview for kidney cancer

  • Making treatment decisions

    Your doctors may tell you there are different options for your treatment. Having the right information will help you make the right decision for you.

  • Surgery for kidney cancer

    Surgery involves removing all or part of the cancer with an operation. It is an important treatment for many cancers.

  • Tumour ablation for kidney cancer

    Tumour ablation is a type of treatment that uses extreme temperatures to destroy small tumours, instead of having surgery.

  • Arterial embolisation for kidney cancer

    Arterial embolisation can shrink the tumour and help control symptoms by blocking its blood supply.

  • Monitoring kidney cancer

    Sometimes, active treatment may not be immediately necessary or appropriate. Doctors may suggest monitoring small, low-grade cancers.

  • Targeted (biological) therapies

    Targeted (biological) therapies interfere with the way cells grow and divide. Find out how they may be used to treat kidney (renal) cancer.

  • Immunotherapies for kidney cancer

    Immunotherapy drugs encourage the body’s immune system to fight cancer cells. It is sometimes used to treat types of advanced kidney cancer.

  • Radiotherapy for kidney cancer

    Radiotherapy uses high-energy rays to destroy cancer cells. It may relieve symptoms caused by kidney cancer that has spread to other parts of the body.

  • Clinical trials

    Many people are offered a trial as part of treatment. Find out more to help you decide if a trial is right for you.

  • What happens after treatment for kidney cancer

    Recovery from cancer and its treatment is a gradual process. To start with you’ll have follow-up appointment to check your progress.

  • Life after cancer treatment

    You might be thinking about how to get back to normal following treatment. Find advice, information and support about coping with and after cancer.

Your doctors will plan your treatment taking into account the size of the cancer and whether it has spread, as well as your preferences and general health.

Early kidney cancer

Early kidney cancer that hasn’t spread outside the kidney (T1 N0 M0 or T2 N0 M0) is usually treated with surgery. If the cancer is small, the surgeon will usually only remove the part of the kidney containing the cancer. But if the cancer is larger, the whole kidney may need to be removed. This is sometimes done using keyhole surgery.

In some situations, treatments that destroy the cancer cells with very high or low temperatures are used to treat small kidney cancers. This is called tumour ablation. It may be used instead of an operation.

Some kidney cancers are slow growing and very unlikely to spread outside the kidney. In certain situations, people who have small kidney cancers (less than 3cm across) may not need treatment. Instead they have regular scans of their kidneys to monitor the cancer. If the cancer shows signs of growing, they can have treatment. This approach is called monitoring, watch and wait or active surveillance.

Locally advanced cancer

If the cancer is larger, or has spread to lymph nodes but not to other parts of the body, surgery is often the main treatment. Clinical trials are trying to find out if targeted therapy drugs or immunotherapy can reduce the risk of the cancer coming back after surgery.

Advanced cancer (metastatic or secondary cancer)

If the cancer has spread outside the kidney to other parts of the body, your surgeon may still advise you to have an operation to remove the kidney. But, surgery will usually be combined with other treatments, such as targeted therapy.

Sometimes surgery is used to remove a secondary cancer, for example in the lung. This isn’t common. But, it may be done if there is only one area of secondary cancer and no sign of cancer elsewhere.

Targeted therapy drugs are the main treatment for advanced kidney cancer. They are used to try to shrink the cancer and control symptoms. Some advanced kidney cancers that are low-grade may grow very slowly. In this situation and if the cancer isn’t causing symptoms, your specialist may suggest monitoring with scans for a time before starting treatment.

Occasionally radiotherapy is used to relieve symptoms caused by advanced kidney cancer. Our section on advanced cancer has more information about symptom control and who can help.

Back to Kidney cancer (renal cancer)


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