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Controlling the symptoms

Some treatments can control advanced kidney cancer for some time, and reduce symptoms. 

Local treatment such as surgery or radiotherapy may be best if you have only one area of cancer spread.

Biological therapy is a better option if the cancer is in more than one area. It may not help to repeat a type of treatment you've had before.

Biological therapy

Biological therapies are drug treatments that interfere with the way cells work. They can stop or slow the growth of your cancer for months and sometimes years.

Surgery

Your doctor might suggest surgery if your cancer has come back in the area of the kidney. Or if it has spread to only one other part of the body, such as the lungs or liver. They may want to remove either:

  • your kidney, or
  • your kidney and the secondary cancer

Usually you can have this surgery if you have just one secondary cancer. Taking out the secondary cancer can temporarily stop it from growing and help you stay well for longer. 

Even if you can only have your kidney removed, it can still slow down the cancer’s growth and keep you in reasonable health for longer. Kidney cancers can cause symptoms such as high temperatures (fever), weakness, muscle pains and nerve problems. Surgery can help to control these symptoms.

What to expect

Your surgeon will remove the affected kidney and secondary cancer in one operation if possible. For example, if the secondary cancer is in the liver and close to the affected kidney.

But usually you have 2 operations. The kidney is generally removed first. After you’ve recovered from that operation, you have scans and then surgery to remove the secondary cancer.

Your doctor takes into account how healthy and fit you are when deciding if this treatment is right for you. You must be in reasonable health to recover from a big operation. Depending on where your cancer has spread, your cancer specialist may refer you to a specialist surgeon for your surgery. 

Radiotherapy

Radiotherapy can help to shrink your cancer and control symptoms such as pain and blood in the urine.

Shrinking secondary kidney cancer in the lungs with radiotherapy may help relieve breathlessness.

Radiotherapy can help with bone pain if cancer has spread to your bones. And doctors also use it to treat kidney cancer that has spread to the brain.

Cryotherapy

Cyotherapy kills cancer cells by freezing them. It can shrink your cancer and help to control your symptoms for some time.

Your doctor might suggest cryotherapy for an area of cancer that is less than 4cm across. You can have the treatment again if you need to. 

Radio wave treatment

Radio wave treatment is also called radiofrequency ablation (RFA). It uses heat made by radio waves to kill cancer cells. It can help to shrink a tumour and control your symptoms. Your doctor may suggest it if you have a small area of cancer in the kidney or liver. 

Blocking the blood supply to the cancer

Your doctor may suggest blocking the blood supply to your cancer. This is called arterial embolisation. It can help to shrink the cancer and control symptoms such as pain or bleeding in the urine. This procedure can also treat secondary cancer in your liver.

The doctor injects small pieces of foam or gelatine beads into the main artery leading to the area where the cancer is. This blocks the blood supply, and can shrink the cancer. 

Arterial embolisation can be used before or during surgery to reduce the risk of bleeding during the operation. For example, it may be used before surgery for secondary cancer in the spinal bones.

Hormone therapy

In some people with advanced kidney cancer a hormone therapy called medroxyprogesterone (Provera) can shrink the cancer and control symptoms. But doctors don't commonly use it now because biological therapies tend to work better. It can also cause side effects such as weight gain, water retention, indigestion and sleeplessness.

Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy does not work very well in patients with kidney cancer. So it is not often used to treat it.

Your doctor might offer you chemotherapy as part of a clinical trial of new drugs, or in combination with biological therapy.

Other ways of controlling symptoms

Medicines can help control symptoms such as pain, sickness, diarrhoea and constipation. Some people find complementary therapies such as relaxation and massage can relieve pain or sickness. And they can certainly help to reduce anxiety and stress.

Painkillers and pain control

There are many different painkillers and ways of taking them. You should be able to stay pain free most of the time with the help of your doctor or specialist nurse. You may not be completely pain free when you're moving around, but you should be when you're resting.

You can try relaxation or breathing techniques to help with managing pain. 

Sickness

There are many different anti sickness medicines. Which one you need depends on what's causing your sickness. Tell your doctor or symptom control nurse what relieves your sickness and what makes it worse.

Last reviewed: 
15 Jan 2014
  • Cancer and its management (7th edition)
    Tobias J and Hochhauser D
    Blackwell, 2015

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