Treatment overview for kidney cancer

Treatment depends on a number of factors, including the position, type, stage and grade of the cancer. Your doctors will also consider how well your kidneys work, your general health and your personal preferences.

Research is going on to find more effective treatments for kidney cancer. You may be invited to take part in a clinical trial for a new drug or treatment.

Early kidney cancer

Early kidney cancer that has not spread outside the kidney (stage 1 or stage 2) 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 bigger, they may need to remove the whole kidney. They sometimes do this using keyhole surgery. Surgery may be the only treatment needed.

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 surgery.

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 or active surveillance.

Getting a second opinion

GP David Plume explains getting a second opinion about your diagnosis or treatment.

About our cancer information videos

Getting a second opinion

GP David Plume explains getting a second opinion about your diagnosis or treatment.

About our cancer information videos

Locally advanced kidney cancer

If the cancer is bigger, or has spread to lymph nodes but not to other parts of the body, surgery is often the main treatment. Targeted therapy and immunotherapy drugs may be used to reduce the risk of the cancer coming back after surgery. They may be used as part of a clinical trial.

Advanced (metastatic or secondary) kidney caner

Targeted therapy drugs are the main treatment for advanced kidney cancer. Immunotherapy may also be used. These treatments are used to try to control the cancer. This can help to improve symptoms and quality of life.

If the cancer has spread outside the kidney to other parts of the body, your surgeon may still advise you to have surgery to remove the kidney. If an operation is possible, it 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 is not common. But it may be done if there is only one area of secondary cancer and no sign of cancer elsewhere.

Some advanced kidney cancers that are low-grade may grow very slowly. In this situation and if the cancer is not causing symptoms, your specialist may suggest monitoring the cancer with scans for a while before starting treatment.

Chemotherapy is not a standard treatment for kidney cancer. But it is sometimes used to treat advanced urothelial cancer of the kidney.

Occasionally, radiotherapy is used to relieve symptoms caused by advanced kidney cancer.

Tips for talking to your doctor

Find out how to get the most out of your appointments with a GP or doctor.

About our cancer information videos

Tips for talking to your doctor

Find out how to get the most out of your appointments with a GP or doctor.

About our cancer information videos

Back to If you have been diagnosed with kidney cancer

Just been diagnosed?

Just been diagnosed with cancer? We're here for you every step of the way. There are many ways we can help.

Staging and grading

The stage and grade of the cancer describes its size, whether it has spread and how quickly it may develop.

The cancer registry

In the UK, each country has a cancer registry. It is used to plan and improve health and care services.