17.2 PTC Cancer Life Phases: Treatment of Kidney Cancer

17.2 PTC Cancer Life Phases: Treatment of Kidney Cancer

Ok, you understand the higher risk for cancer that an organ transplant recipient has, you know what to LOOK for by way of symptoms and testing especially for the type of organ transplant you received, so once DIAGNOSED, what TREATMENT options by cancer type are available?

After a cancer diagnosis — whether it's your own or that of a loved one — the right information can be one of your most powerful weapons. Here's what you need to know about cancer treatment and management

 Doctors will help figure out with you what the best treatment is for you. For each type of cancer, there are lots of different ways that it might be treated, depending on things about you and things about your cancer like how far along it is. It can be overwhelming to decide which treatment to go with, if you have options. Some things to consider according to the American Cancer Society are your age and how long you expect to live, other health conditions you have and how that matters for risk or how well the treatment will work, the stage of your cancer, if surgery will remove the cancer, the chances that the treatment will cure cancer or if it will help with symptoms, and your feelings about the side effects of that treatment. Some people have also said that even though the following things don’t actually help to treat their cancer, they might help cope with the experience: art therapy, physical activity when possible, meditation, music therapy, acupuncture and massage.


Cancer in the simplest terms is the abnormal growth of cells somewhere in the body. Each year, more than a million people receive a cancer diagnosis, and the most common types of cancer include skin cancer, breast cancer, prostate cancer, lung cancer, and colorectal cancer. In addition to the three major types of cancer treatment — surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy — researchers are working to find new and more effective ways of fighting cancer. Some cancers can't be prevented, but other types can be avoided by living a healthy lifestyle.

While surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy are still the first-line treatments for most cancers, there are also new and emerging approaches. When you are learning about cancer and evaluating what cancer treatment to undergo, it's important to understand your options and the benefits and risks that each offers.  Generally, cancer patients receive one of three types of cancer treatment: surgery, chemotherapy, or radiation therapy. It's also possible to receive a combination of any of those three types, in hopes of increasing the odds of getting rid of the cancer cells.

CancerTreatment Graphic

Treatment Considerations

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Different kidney cancer treatment options and their pros/cons

There are lots of different ways your doctor may recommend treating your kidney cancer. It is important to also think about how kidney cancer can be stressful, scary and other kinds of emotions. You can use palliative care (specialized medical care for people living with a serious illness) to help with the emotional side of having kidney cancer. Some things that palliative care might do are things like teaching you relaxation techniques, emotional coping support, spiritual support and maybe diet changes. Some of the ways that your doctor might treat your cancer are:
  • Active surveillance: This is sometimes also called watchful waiting, where you watch your tumor very closely like going to your doctor for regular tests to see if it is growing at all. This is useful for older adults or people who have a small tumor. It can also be good for people who have another disease like heart disease, chronic kidney disease, or lung disease. Doctors will recommend other treatments if it looks like the disease is getting worse.

  • Surgery: Your doctor might do surgery to remove the tumor and some of the other healthy tissue around it to do their best to get all of the cancer out. If cancer has not spread, doing surgery to take out the tumor, or even part of the kidney might be the only treatment you need to get rid of cancer. There are different kinds of surgery your doctor might do. They might do radical nephrectomy where they take out the whole kidney with the tumor and some extra health tissue to get it all. They might also take out lymph nodes and some blood vessels or even the adrenal gland if cancer has gone there. Doctors might also do a partial nephrectomy where they take out the tumor but not the rest of the kidney. Some research has shown this to work for T1 tumors which are tumors smaller than 7cm and are contained only inside of the kidney. The last kind of surgery they might do is called a laparoscopic or another kind of robotic surgery. These are minimally invasive meaning that the surgeon makes small cuts in your belly to insert their tools and remove the whole kidney or part of it. This surgery might be longer than the other kinds, but can be less painful.

  • Radiofrequency Ablation or Cryoablation: These two treatments are when your doctor uses a needle and puts it into the tumor to kill the cancer with electrical current or freezing cancer cells. For this you would be sedated and the area where the needle goes would be numbed. These two treatments are usually used when someone is not able to have surgery because the researchers still aren’t sure of the effectiveness of these two options vs, the preferred surgical option.

  • Targeted Therapy: These treatments try to target the genes, proteins or tissues that let cancers grow and live. Some of these treatments try to stop the process of making new blood vessels to starve the tumor of the nutrients that blood brings to the tumor. Some of these treatments try to make slow the growth of kidney cancer cells, and some combine medicines to try to get your immune system to target the cancer cells.

  • Immunotherapy: This treatment is sometimes also called biologic therapy. This treatment is when your doctor gives you things that help boost your body’s defenses to fight cancer. It helps your immune system to do its job. Three kinds that are common for kidney cancer are Interleukin-2. Alpha-interferon, and immune checkpoint inhibitors. Some of the side effects of these treatments are skin reactions, feeling like you have the flu, diarrhea, and weight gain or loss.

  • Chemotherapy: Although this type of treatment is common for many other types of cancers (check out the other Live pages), it doesn’t usually work for kidney cancer.

  • Radiation: Although this type of treatment is common for many other types of cancers (check out the other Live pages), it doesn’t usually work that well for kidney cancer. It is only used by itself to treat someone who can’t have surgery and is used only on the places where cancer has spread, and not on the tumor itself. It usually helps with the cancer symptoms but doesn’t make it go away for kidney cancer.


Starting treatment as soon as possible helps make your survival chances better. Here are some numbers that tell you about what percent of people survive kidney cancer, compared to people who don’t have cancer survive at least 5 years after being diagnosed. These numbers don’t tell us anything about what specific treatments people had, they only give us a big-picture idea of surviving five years. Stage 1 people with kidney cancer are 81% as likely to live at least 5 years after diagnosis as people who don’t have cancer. Stage 2 people with kidney cancer are 74% as likely to live at least 5 years after diagnosis as people who don’t have cancer.  Stage 3 people with kidney cancer are 53% as likely to live at least 5 years after diagnosis as people who don’t have cancer. Stage 4 people with kidney cancer are 8% as likely to live at least 5 years after diagnosis as people who don’t have cancer. Research has shown that if cancer has spread to two or more distant cities, survival chances are less.

Planning and Preparing

Facing cancer is a difficult experience. Knowing what to expect and understanding how to navigate this journey can help make this stressful time easier. There are actions you can take at every step of the journey that may help you feel more in control of your health. Use these treatment tips offered by American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR), for before, during and after cancer treatment below.

Click here to link to the full AICR article.

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    DISCLAIMER: The content of this TRIO post-transplant cancer Web site is not influenced by sponsors. The site is designed primarily for use by transplant recipients and their supporters. The information contained herein should NOT be used as a substitute for the advice of an appropriately qualified and licensed physician or other health care provider. The information provided here is for educational and informational purposes only. In no way should it be considered as offering medical advice. Please check with your transplant team or a physician skilled in cancer and your organ type if you suspect you are ill.