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Monitoring your cancer

Your doctor may monitor a small kidney cancer for a while before recommending treatment.

Small kidney cancers

Some kidney cancers are found by chance when you have a scan for other reasons. Many of these tumours are very small. Doctors call them small renal masses.

Some small cancers may not cause any problems for a long time, even without treatment. They are very unlikely to spread into surrounding tissue or elsewhere in the body. If they don't grow, they may not need treating at all.

When a kidney cancer is less than 3cm across, your doctor may wait and watch the cancer carefully to see if it grows. This way you avoid unnecessary treatments that could affect your quality of life.

This is called monitoring. You may also hear it called active surveillance, observation or watchful waiting.

Scans

Usually if doctors find a small kidney cancer on a scan, you have another scan of the kidney and urinary system 3 to 6 months later. This is to see if the cancer has grown. This is called a CT urogram.

If the cancer has not grown, your doctor will talk to you about a plan for further regular scans. These are usually every 6 to 12 months.

If the cancer starts to grow

Your doctor will suggest treatment to destroy or remove the cancer if it starts to grow. Treatment choices can include surgery, freezing therapy and radiofrequency ablation.

How you may feel

Some people find it very stressful to know that they have a cancer and be told they don't need treatment straight away.

You can talk this through with your doctor or specialist nurse. They can:

  • reassure you
  • explain how often you will have checks
  • explain the treatment you may have if the cancer grows

What you can do for yourself

To keep healthy and feel you are doing something positive you can:

  • eat a healthy diet
  • try to learn to relax
  • try to stop smoking (smoking is linked to kidney cancer)
  • note any new symptoms and report them to your doctor

    A diet high in fresh fruit, vegetables and fish and low in animal fats is good for your health.

    There is currently no strong evidence linking stress to cancer. But this can be a stressful situaion. Relaxing will help you feel better and may help you cope better too. You could try a new hobby or relaxation techniques.

    Last reviewed: 
    27 Jan 2016
    • Active surveillance of small renal masses: progression patterns of early stage kidney cancer
      M Jewett and others
      European Urology, 2011, Volume 60, Issue 1. Pages 39-44

    • EAU Guidelines on Renal Cell Carcinoma: 2014 Update
      B Ljungberga and others
      European Urology, 2015, Volume 67, Issue 5, Pages 913–924

    • MDT Guidance for managing Renal Cancer
      British Association of Urological Surgeons (BAUS), Section of Oncology and British Uro-oncology Group (BUG), May 2012

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