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A quick guide to what's on this page

Looking after your kidney

If you have one kidney removed, you will have no ill effects if the other one is working normally. One kidney is enough to filter your blood to keep it clean and healthy.

It is important to take care of your remaining kidney, though. If you smoke, you need to try to stop. Smoking has been linked to many cancers, including kidney cancer. 

A high protein diet has been linked to kidney disease, including cancer. To eat more healthily, try to have more fresh fruit and vegetables and not eat so much protein. Protein containing foods include meat and fish, eggs, cheese, butter and milk, and beans and lentils. Heavy drinking will cause kidney damage eventually, and so it is good to cut down or stop drinking alcohol if you can.

Cancer affecting both kidneys

Rarely, people do get cancer in both kidneys. Once you have had cancer in one kidney, there is about a 1 in 20 chance (5%) of getting cancer in the other kidney. If you have both kidneys completely removed, you will need to have kidney dialysis.

 

CR PDF Icon You can view and print the quick guides for all the pages in the Living with kidney cancer section.

 

 

Taking care of your remaining kidney

If you have one kidney removed, you will have no ill effects if the other one is working normally. One kidney is enough to filter your blood to keep it clean and healthy.

It is important to take care of your remaining kidney, though. Firstly, if you smoke, you need to try to stop. Smoking has been linked to many cancers, including kidney cancer. Giving up smoking can be very difficult, especially if you have smoked for many years. You will need a lot of will power and support from your friends and family but it will be worth it. On our website we have information about how to stop and who to contact for support.

A high protein diet has been linked to kidney disease, including cancer. To eat more healthily, try to have more fresh fruit and vegetables and not eat so much protein. Protein containing foods include

  • Meat and fish
  • Eggs
  • Cheese, butter and milk
  • Beans and lentils

As you can see, most protein rich foods are also rich in animal fats. So eating a diet lower in protein may help you to maintain a healthy weight too. Try to cut down on the amount of salt you add to your food. A high salt intake puts a strain on the kidneys and is not good for your heart.

Some people try high doses of vitamins to try to treat their cancer or stop it coming back. There is no evidence that this works. In fact, with kidney cancer, you could do more harm than good. Large doses of vitamin C could damage your remaining kidney, or cause kidney stones, which are very painful.

If you drink alcohol within healthy limits it will do no harm. But heavy drinking will cause kidney damage eventually, and so it is helpful to cut down or stop drinking.

We have information about healthy eating on our website.

 

Cancer affecting both kidneys

Rarely, people get cancer in both kidneys. Once you have had cancer in one kidney, there is about a 1 in 20 chance (5%) of getting cancer in the other kidney.

It is possible to have both kidneys removed if necessary. But your surgeon will try to remove only the tumours from the kidneys. The surgeon will try to leave enough working kidney tissue to keep you healthy.

If you have both kidneys completely removed, you will not make any urine. You will need to have kidney dialysis. This is a way of getting rid of waste products and excess water that the kidneys normally filter out of your blood. There are 2 different types of kidney dialysis

Using a kidney dialysis machine

You need to use the kidney dialysis machine about 3 times a week to keep the blood healthy. To have dialysis, you have 2 needles put into your arm. One carries blood to the machine, where it is cleaned and excess water is removed. The other needle carries the cleaned blood back to your body. Most people have to travel to a dialysis centre 3 times a week to have this treatment. The dialysis itself takes up to 6 hours or so. As you can see, having this treatment is time consuming. It will take up quite a bit of your time every week.

Continuous ambulatory peritoneal dialysis (CAPD)

CAPD is a type of dialysis that you have on your own at home every day. You have a permanent tube (catheter) in your tummy (abdomen). Every day, you attach a bag of fluid to the tube and run it into your abdomen. Then, you leave the fluid inside you for several hours. While it is in there, the fluid collects the waste products and extra water that you would normally get rid of in your urine. After a set time, you drain the fluid out again, together with the waste products and extra water. You then put another clean bag of fluid in.

An advantage of this type of dialysis is that you can manage it yourself at home. So it is easier to carry on with your usual daily routine. But you can get infections inside your abdomen from the tube. You have to be very careful about keeping clean when you are changing bags. But however careful you are, you will almost certainly get the odd infection if you are managing this type of dialysis for any length of time.

 

Diet and lifestyle on dialysis

There can be problems with both types of dialysis. But they mean you can lead a more or less normal life without a working kidney. You have to stick to a special diet that is low in protein, salt and potassium. And you have to keep a very close check on your fluid intake. Without your kidneys to filter out extra water, you can easily become overloaded with fluid. That can cause heart or lung problems.

So, life without a kidney means that you have to pay attention to what you eat and drink. But many people manage very well with dialysis.

 

More information about living without a kidney

If you are facing life without a kidney and have questions, why not contact the Cancer Research UK information nurses on freephone 0808 800 4040, from 9am until 5pm, Monday to Friday. They would be happy to help.

Or you can get information and leaflets from the organisations on our kidney cancer organisations page

If you want to find people to share experiences with online, you could use CancerChat, our online forum.

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Updated: 15 January 2014