Blocking the blood supply for kidney cancer (renal artery embolisation)

Treatment to block the blood supply for kidney cancer is called renal artery embolisation. You might have this if you aren't able to have surgery and have symptoms from your kidney cancer.

What is renal artery embolisation?

Renal artery embolisation is where the blood supply to the kidney is blocked. Your doctor might stop the blood supply going just to the cancer or the whole kidney.

Your blood carries oxygen and nutrients to the cancer so that it can keep growing. If your doctor stops the blood supply to the cancer its growth may be slowed and your symptoms may improve.

Renal artery embolisation is a minor procedure done in the x-ray (radiology) department. You stay in hospital for a couple of nights afterwards.

Who has a renal artery embolisation?

You might have a renal artery embolisation if: 

  • you’re not well enough for surgery to remove all or part of your kidney
  • your cancer is too large for surgery and you are getting symptoms like pain or bleeding    

Renal artery embolisation does not cure the cancer as the doctors have not removed it. There is still a chance that cancer cells will spread to other parts of the body in the future. But it can help to reduce symptoms.

What happens before a renal artery embolisation?

The hospital will tell you how to prepare for the procedure. They usually arrange for you to have some blood tests. And tell you if you need to stop taking any of your normal medicines before the procedure, such as blood thinning medicines. They check if you have any allergies, including to the dye that they use.

They may ask you not to eat for about 6 hours before the procedure. You can usually drink water up to 2 hours beforehand.

What happens during a renal artery embolisation?

You normally lie on your back on an x-ray table for the procedure. Your doctor (radiologist) or radiology nurse may give you some medicine to make you feel sleepy. This is called sedation. You have it through a small tube in your vein (a cannula).

The radiology nurse stays with you throughout the procedure. They make sure you are comfortable and measure your blood pressure, breathing rate and oxygen levels.

Your doctor injects local anaesthetic into the skin at the top of your leg (groin) to make the area go numb. They put a thin plastic tube (catheter) through your skin and into a blood vessel in your groin. They move the catheter up until it reaches the artery that carries blood to the kidney. They inject a dye into the catheter which shows up the arteries on x-ray. This shows the doctor when they are in the right place. 

Your doctor blocks the blood supply by injecting very thin metal coils into the catheter. Or they might inject a liquid. There are different types of liquid they can use to block or damage the blood vessel.  This stops the blood supply getting to the cancer.

Diagram showing how the blood supply to kidney cancer is blocked (renal artery embolisation)

When your doctor has finished they remove the catheter. They may place pressure on the groin to close over the tiny hole in the blood vessel or use a small internal plug to seal it.

They put a dressing over the tiny wound in your groin and you go back to the ward to rest.

What happens after a renal artery embolisation?

On the ward the nurses monitor you closely. They regularly check your blood pressure and make sure there is no bleeding. You need to rest for at least 4 hours.

You may have some pain for a day or two. But your doctor or nurse will give you painkillers.

You may have a patient controlled analgesia (PCA) machine. This injects a small amount of painkiller into your cannula when you press a button. Your nurses show you how to use this. They also monitor how much of the painkiller you are using.

For a few days afterwards you may have some side effects. This is caused by the breakdown of the kidney cancer cells. This can cause a high temperature (fever) and sickness. You might feel like you have the flu. You can usually take paracetamol every 6 hours until the side effects improve. Your doctor or nurse will tell you how to manage any side effects.

  • EAU guidelines on renal cell carcinoma
    European Association of Urology (EAU), 2023

  • Guidelines for the Management of Renal Cancer
    West Midlands Expert Advisory Group for Urological Cancer, March 2020

  • Image-Guided Interventions in Oncology: An Interdisciplinary Approach
    C. Georgiades and HS Kim
    Springer International Publishing, 2020

  • The Royal Marsden Manual of Clinical and Cancer Nursing Procedures (10th edition, online)
    S Lister, J Hofland and H Grafton
    Wiley Blackwell, 2020

  • Renal Artery Embolization
    S Sauk, D Zuckerman
    Seminars in Interventional Radiology, 2011. Volume 28, Issue 4, Pages 396–406

Last reviewed: 
29 Jan 2024
Next review due: 
29 Jan 2027

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