What it's like living with kidney cancer and the adjustments you may need to make.
Taking care of your remaining kidney
One kidney is enough to filter your blood to keep it clean and healthy. If you have one kidney removed, as long as your other one works normally there should be no ill effects.
Your GP should monitor your blood pressure regularly (about 4 times a year). This is to make sure that the remaining kidney stays healthy. If your blood pressure increases, they can give you medicine to control it.
But it’s still important that you take care of your remaining kidney.
If you smoke, you should try to stop. Smoking has been linked to kidney cancer and many other cancers.
Giving up smoking can be very difficult, especially if you have smoked for years. You will need a lot of will power and support from your friends and family but it will be worth it.
A high protein diet has been linked to kidney cancer, and kidney disease in general. To eat more healthily, try to have more fresh fruit and vegetables and not eat so much protein. Foods high in protein include:
- meat and fish
- cheese, butter and milk
- beans and lentils
Most high protein 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 take 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.
Heavy drinking will cause kidney damage eventually. Cutting down or stopping drinking alcohol is helpful.
Cancer affecting both kidneys
Rarely, people get cancer in both kidneys. Once you’ve had cancer in one kidney, there is a slightly increased chance of getting cancer in the other kidney.
You can have both kidneys removed if necessary. But your surgeon will try to remove only the tumours and 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.
Dialysis means you can lead a more or less normal life without a working kidney. There can be problems with dialysis and you have to stick to a special diet. But many people manage very well with it.
There are 2 different types of kidney dialysis. You can use a kidney dialysis machine at a dialysis centre. Or you can use a permanent tube and bag of fluid at home.
Kidney dialysis machine
You use a kidney dialysis machine about 3 times a week to keep your blood healthy. Most people have to travel to a dialysis centre to do this. The dialysis itself takes up to 6 hours.
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.
Having this treatment takes up quite a bit of your time every week.
Dialysis at home
Continuous ambulatory peritoneal dialysis (CAPD) is a type of dialysis 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. You leave the fluid inside you for several hours.
While it’s 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. Then you put another clean bag of fluid in.
Being able to manage the dialysis yourself at home makes it easier to carry on with your usual daily routine. But you have to be very careful about keeping clean when you change the bags. However careful you are, you will almost certainly get the odd infection if you manage this type of dialysis for a while.
Diet and lifestyle on dialysis
You have to stick to a special diet that is low in protein, salt and potassium.
You also 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. This can cause heart or lung problems.