What to Know First About Your Treatment Choices for Kidney Cancer

Kidney cancer can be treated. The choices you have for treatment depend on these factors:

  • The type of kidney cancer you have

  • The size and location of your tumor

  • The extent of the cancer, called the stage

  • Your age and general health

  • Your personal needs

Treatment may control or cure the kidney cancer. It can also improve your quality of life by controlling symptoms of the disease. 

Once you know your stage of kidney cancer, it is time to decide on a treatment plan. This section will help you understand your treatment options and what's best for you. Talking about your treatment choices will be one of the most important meetings you will have with your doctor. 

Deciding on the best plan may take some time. Talk with your doctor about how much time you can take to explore your options. You may want to get another opinion before deciding on your treatment plan. In fact, some insurance companies may require a second opinion. In addition, you may want to involve your family and friends in this process. 

Understanding the goals of treatment for kidney cancer

The goal of kidney cancer treatment is to do one or more of these things:

  • Remove the primary kidney cancer tumor or other tumors

  • Kill or stop the growth or spread of new kidney cancer cells, which is called metastasis

  • Prevent or delay the cancer's return, which is called recurrence

  • Ease symptoms of the cancer, such as pain or pressure on organs

Types of treatment for kidney cancer

There is more than one option for treatment. These are listed from the most to least commonly done:

  • Surgery. This is the most common treatment for kidney cancer. It is used to remove the tumor and any lymph nodes that contain cancer. You may also have surgery to ease pressure or pain.

  • Biological therapy. These are manufactured substances that are like the ones your immune system makes. They help your immune system fight the cancer.

  • Radiation therapy. This treatment kills cancer cells with high-energy X-rays. Radiation is often used when the kidney cancer has spread to certain bones. It may be used in other situations to treat symptoms such as cough or pain.

  • Targeted therapy. These are drugs that target specific parts of kidney cancer cells to kill them or slow their growth.

  • Chemotherapy. One or more drugs kill cancer cells or shrink tumors. They work by attacking rapidly growing cells. Unfortunately, standard chemotherapy drugs are not often very effective against kidney cancer.

Your doctor may suggest that you have more than one of these types of treatment. This is sometimes called combination therapy. Newer types of treatment may be available only through a research study. This is called a clinical trial. You can ask your doctor about that option.

Your doctor may also recommend the best supportive care, which helps ease your symptoms but doesn't specifically treat the cancer. Your doctor may suggest supportive care if he or she believes that available treatments are more likely to do you more harm than good.