Living with advanced kidney cancer

Advanced cancer means cancer that can’t be cured. It might have come back after your original treatment or have spread to other areas of the body.

Treatment can often control the cancer and relieve symptoms. Your doctors and nurses will help you to make the most of life and feel as good as possible for as long as possible.

How you might feel

Finding out that you can’t be cured is distressing and can be a shock. It’s common to feel uncertain and anxious. It's normal to not be able to think about anything else.

Lots of information and support is available to you, your family and friends. It can help to find out more about your cancer and the treatments you might have. Many people find that knowing more about their situation can make it easier to cope.

    Talk to your doctor or nurse to understand:

    • what your diagnosis means
    • what is likely to happen
    • what treatment is available
    • how treatment can help you

    Who can help?

    You can get emotional and practical support through your hospital, local hospice and GP practice. You can also get help from charities and support groups.

    Questions you may find difficult to ask

    Unfortunately, sometimes kidney cancer can’t be cured. But specialists are getting better at helping patients to live longer after their diagnosis.

    Cancer can be life threatening because it can spread. Sometimes it isn’t diagnosed until after it has spread.

    The kidney is part of the body system that removes waste products from your body. The kidneys filter and clean the blood. They remove chemicals that are left over from the breakdown of food, drugs and the normal chemical processes of the body. If your kidneys are not working properly, you will have a build up of toxins in your blood and this can quickly make you very ill. 

    The kidneys also control the fluid balance of the body. You eventually develop fluid overload if your kidneys stop working. This can affect your heart and lungs. 

    Kidney cancer can spread to other parts of your body. If it gets into the bones, for example, this can further upset the body’s chemical balance.

    It may spread to the liver, which is the chemical factory of the body. Having cancer in your liver upsets the chemical balance of your body. Normally the body corrects these imbalances automatically. But if the chemical imbalance is too great the body cannot work properly any more.

    Organ transplant is rarely an option for treating advanced cancer.

    It is highly likely that some cancer cells will have broken away from the tumour and travelled to other parts of the body. These continue to grow whether you have a transplant or not.

    Transplant patients also have to take drugs to damp down (suppress) their immune systems and stop them rejecting the transplanted organ. Suppressing your immune system is not a good idea, as your immune system may be helping you fight the cancer.

    It is very difficult for any doctor to answer this question for you. Your doctors and nurses will see you regularly and can give you an idea of how things are going for you. It might not be possible for them to give an accurate idea of how long you might live. But they can usually tell you about your prognosis and how your cancer might develop. This can help you to make plans. 

    When cancer is very advanced, the chemical balance of the body becomes completely upset. Often, you slip into unconsciousness. This is usually very near the end of your illness, maybe only a few hours or days before you die.

    Any symptoms you have should be controlled, or at least helped, with treatment from your doctor and symptom control nurse. Make sure you tell them about all your symptoms. Talk to them about your concerns or fears.

    Talking about advanced cancer

    Your friends and relatives might be able to support you and talk to you about your cancer. Sharing can help to increase trust and support between you and make it easier to plan ahead. But some families are scared of the emotions this could bring up. So they may not want to discuss it. They might worry that you won't be able to cope with your situation.

    It can strain relationships if your family or friends don't want to talk. You can help your family and friends by letting them know you would like to discuss what’s happening and how you feel.

    You might find it easier to talk to someone outside your own friends and family.

    Counselling might help you find ways of coping with your feelings and emotions. You can call the Cancer Research UK nurses on freephone 0808 800 4040, from 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday.


    Thinking about your priorities and planning what you want to do can help you to feel more in control. You might want to talk about how you want to spend your time and what is and isn’t important to you.

    Some of your future plans might no longer be realistic. But you might get round to doing something you always wanted to do but weren’t able to make time for.

    Coping financially

    You might have extra expenses due to the cancer. Your specialist nurse or GP can help you get grants for heating costs, holidays or household expenses related to your illness.

    Ask to see a social worker. They can let you know which benefits or grants you can claim and help with the claiming process.  

    Towards the end of life

    It’s natural to want to find out what is likely to happen in the last few weeks or days of life.

    You might need to choose where you want to be looked after and who you want to care for you.

    You can call the Cancer Research UK nurses if you have questions or want to talk about coping with advanced cancer. Call free on 0808 800 4040, from 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday.
    Last reviewed: 
    15 Jan 2020
    Next review due: 
    15 Jun 2023
    • Cancer and its management (7th edition)
      Tobias J and D Hochhauser 
      Blackwell, 2015

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