Radiotherapy for kidney cancer
This page is about radiotherapy for kidney cancer. There is information about
Radiotherapy for kidney cancer
Radiotherapy uses high energy X-rays to kill cancer cells. It is not used often for cancer of the kidney because kidney cancer cells are not as sensitive to radiation as some other types of cancer.
Your doctor may suggest radiotherapy to help control the symptoms of an advanced cancer, such as pain or bleeding into the urine. Doctors also use it to treat kidney cancer that has spread to the brain.
How and where you have treatment
You have radiotherapy treatment in the hospital radiotherapy department as an outpatient. You usually have radiotherapy as a series of daily treatments. You may have one treatment a day for a few days, or a few treatments with a few days break between each.
Radiotherapy is carefully planned. At your first visit you usually have CT or MRI scans so the treatment team can see exactly where the cancer is. The actual treatment only takes a few minutes. It does not hurt. It does not make you radioactive.
What are the side effects?
You may not have many side effects. If they happen, the side effects of radiotherapy to the kidney are feeling or being sick, diarrhoea, and skin reddening and loss of body hair in the treatment area. If you feel sick, you can have anti sickness medicines. Radiotherapy often makes you feel tired.
You can view and print the quick guides for all the pages in the Treating kidney cancer section.
Radiotherapy uses high energy X-rays to kill cancer cells. Radiotherapy is not used often for cancer of the kidney because kidney cancer cells are not as sensitive to radiation as some other types of cancer.
Your doctor may suggest radiotherapy to help control the symptoms of an advanced cancer, such as pain or bleeding in the urine. It can shrink a large cancer and relieve pressure on nearby organs or nerves that may be causing pain. It can also help with bone pain if the cancer has spread to your bones. Doctors also use it to treat kidney cancer that has spread to the brain.
You have radiotherapy treatment in the hospital, as an outpatient. You usually have radiotherapy as a series of treatments, called fractions.
Radiotherapy is often given for a few minutes every day for a few weeks. Your doctor will tell you how your treatment will be given.
Before you begin your treatment, the radiotherapy team carefully plan it. This means working out how much radiation you need to treat the cancer and exactly where you need it.
Your planning appointment may take from 15 minutes up to a couple of hours. You will have a planning CT scan. The scan shows the cancer and the structures around it.
You lie on the scanner couch with the treatment area exposed. The radiographers will put some markers on your skin. You need to lie very still. Once you are in position the radiographers move the couch up and through the scanner. The scanner is a doughnut shape.
The radiographers leave the room and the scan starts. It takes up to 5 minutes. You won't feel anything. The radiographers watch from a room next door.
Before the planning appointment you may also have other scans, such as MRI scans or PET scans.
Once the treatment team has planned your radiotherapy, they may put ink marks on your skin to make sure they treat exactly the same area every day. They may also make pin point sized tattoo marks in these areas.
After your planning session
You may have to wait a few days before you start treatment. During this time the physicists and your radiotherapy doctor decide the final details of your plan.
Your doctor will plan the areas that need treatment and outline areas to limit the dose to or avoid completely. They call this contouring. Then the physicists and staff called dosimetrists plan the treatment very precisely using advanced computers.
Radiotherapy machines are very big. The machine may be fixed in one position or able to rotate around your body to give treatment from different directions. Before your first treatment your radiographers will explain what you will see and hear. The treatment rooms usually have docks for you to plug in music players. So you can listen to your own music.
You can't feel radiotherapy when you actually have the treatment. It takes anything from 10 to 25 minutes. It is important to lie in the same position each time, so the radiographers may take a little while to get you ready.
Once you are in the right position the staff leave you alone in the room while you have the treatment. They watch you carefully on a closed circuit television screen.
Our page about having external radiotherapy has a video about having radiotherapy that you may want to watch.
External radiotherapy doesn't make you radioactive. It is perfectly safe to be with other people, including children, throughout your course of treatment.
The main side effect of radiotherapy treatment to the kidney is tiredness. The tiredness wears off over the few weeks following your treatment. You may not have many side effects from your treatment for kidney cancer but effects that can occur include
- Feeling or being sick
- Reddening of the skin in the treatment area
- Loss of any body hair in the treatment area
If you feel sick, you can have anti sickness medicines to stop it.
This treatment can be very successful at controlling symptoms and slowing down the growth of the cancer. You can have it in a number of different ways. How you have it depends mostly on the size, and number of areas the cancer has spread to in the brain.
If the cancer affects part of your brain, you will most likely have about 10 separate treatments (fractions). You have this treatment daily, from Monday to Friday, so the complete radiotherapy course takes 2 weeks.
If large areas of your brain are affected by cancer, or your specialist thinks that cancer cells could be there, but are too small to show on a scan, you may have whole brain radiotherapy. You usually have this in about 5 treatments (fractions) over a week, or 10 treatments, which takes two weeks.
If only one area of the brain is affected, your doctor may recommend stereotactic radiotherapy. This type of treatment gives high doses of radiation to small areas of the brain.
Stereotactic treatment has to be given very precisely. Only the area of the cancer receives the high doses of radiation. To make sure of this, you may be fitted with a metal head frame or a plastic mesh mask. These make sure that your head can't move while you are having the treatment.
Find out about
For general information and support
Contact the Cancer Research UK nurses on freephone 0808 800 4040 (Open 9am - 5pm, Monday to Friday)
Share experiences on our online forum with Cancer Chat
Rated 5 out of 5 based on 2 votes
Question about cancer? Contact our information nurse team