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Chemotherapy isn't generally used for the most common type of kidney cancer. You might have it if you have transitional cell cancer of the kidney.

What it is

Chemotherapy uses anti cancer (cytotoxic) drugs to destroy cancer cells.

Chemotherapy for kidney cancer

New drugs are being developed all the time and new combinations of treatments are being tried. These must be fully tested in clinical trials before they can be used as treatments. This is so we can be sure they work for kidney cancer and are safe.

Some clinical trials are looking at combining chemotherapy drugs with biological therapies.

Chemotherapy for transitional cell cancer of the kidney

It is more common to have chemotherapy for a type of kidney cancer called transitional cell cancer. This can grow in the kidney, bladder or the connecting tubes of the urinary system (the ureters).

Transitional cell cancer behaves more like bladder cancer, so you may find the chemotherapy for bladder cancer section helpful.

Some clinical trials are looking at using chemotherapy for transitional cell cancer of the kidney. Mitomycin C and vinflunine are among the drugs that doctors are testing.

Into your bloodstream

You have the treatment through a drip into your arm. A nurse puts a small tube (a cannula) into one of your veins and connects the drip to it.

You might need a central line. This is a long plastic tube that gives the drugs into a large vein, either in your chest or through a vein in your arm. It stays in while you’re having treatment, which may be for a few months.

Taking your tablets or capsules

You must take tablets and capsules according to the instructions your doctor or pharmacist gives you.

Whether you have a full or empty stomach can affect how much of a drug gets into your bloodstream.

You should take the right dose, not more or less.

Never stop taking a cancer drug without talking to your specialist first.

Where you have chemotherapy

You usually have treatment into your bloodstream at the cancer day clinic. You might sit in a chair for a few hours so it’s a good idea to take newspapers, books or electronic devices to help to pass the time.

You have some types of chemotherapy over several days. You might be able to have some drugs through a small portable pump that you take home.

For some types of chemotherapy you have to stay in a hospital ward. This could be overnight or for a couple of days.

Before you start chemotherapy

You need to have blood tests to make sure it’s safe to start treatment. You have these either a few days before or on the day you start treatment. You have blood tests before each round or cycle of treatment.

Side effects

Common chemotherapy side effects include:

  • feeling sick
  • loss of appetite
  • losing weight
  • feeling very tired
  • a lower resistance to infections
  • bleeding and bruising easily
  • diarrhoea or constipation
  • hair loss
Contact your doctor or nurse immediately if you have any signs of infection such as a temperature higher than 38C or generally feeling unwell. Infections can make you very unwell very quickly.

Side effects depend on:

  • which drugs you have
  • how much of each drug you have
  • how you react

Tell your treatment team about any side effects that you have.

Most side effects only last for the few days that you’re having the chemotherapy drugs. Your treatment team can help to reduce your side effects.

When you go home

Chemotherapy can be difficult to cope with. Tell your doctor or nurse about any problems or side effects that you have. The nurse will give you telephone numbers to call if you have any problems at home.

Last reviewed: 
03 Feb 2016
  • EAU Guidelines on Renal Cell Carcinoma: 2014 Update
    B Ljungberga and others, 2015
    European Urology, Volume 67, Issue 5

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