Treatment for kidney cancer depends on the stage of the disease, the patient's general health and age, and other factors. Our doctors develop a treatment plan to fit each patient's needs.
At UCSF Medical Center, patients with kidney cancer often are treated by a team of specialists, including urologists, oncologists and radiation oncologists. Kidney cancer usually is treated with surgery or biological therapy, also called immunotherapy. Doctors may decide to use one treatment method or a combination of methods.
Surgery is the most common treatment for kidney cancer. An operation to remove the kidney is called a nephrectomy. Most often, the surgeon removes the whole kidney along with the adrenal gland and the tissue around the kidney. Some lymph nodes in the area also may be removed. This procedure is called a radical nephrectomy. Very often, the surgeon is able to remove just the part of the kidney that contains the tumor. This procedure, called a partial nephrectomy, is best suited for patients with small tumors or tumors on the edge of the kidney.
Radiation therapy, also called radiotherapy, uses high-energy rays to kill cancer cells. Doctors sometimes use radiation therapy to relieve pain (palliative therapy) when kidney cancer has spread to the bone.
Radiation therapy for kidney cancer involves external radiation, which comes from radioactive material outside the body. A machine aims the rays at a specific area of the body. Most often, treatment is given on an outpatient basis in a hospital or clinic five days a week for several weeks. This schedule helps protect normal tissue by spreading out the total dose of radiation. You don't need to stay in the hospital for radiation therapy, and you're not radioactive during or after treatment.
Biological therapy, also called immunotherapy, is a form of treatment that uses the body's natural ability or immune system, to fight cancer. Interleukin-2 and interferon are types of biological therapy used to treat advanced kidney cancer.
Clinical trials continue to examine better ways to use biological therapy while reducing the side effects patients may experience. Many people receiving biological therapy stay in the hospital during treatment so that these side effects can be monitored.
Chemotherapy is the use of drugs to kill cancer cells. Although useful in the treatment of many other cancers, chemotherapy has shown only limited effectiveness against kidney cancer. Researchers continue to study new drugs and new drug combinations that may prove to be more useful.
Hormone therapy is used in a small number of patients with advanced kidney cancer. Some kidney cancers may be treated with hormones to try to control the growth of cancer cells. More often, it is used as palliative therapy or therapy to relieve pain.
Reviewed by health care specialists at UCSF Medical Center.