There are a variety of treatments for kidney cancer depending on the stage of the tumor.
- Radiation Therapy
- Biologic Therapy
- Targeted Therapy
- New Treatments: Clinical Trials
- Cryoablation: Freezing just the tumor tissue to kill the cancer. The remainder of the kidney is preserved.
- Partial nephrectomy: A surgical procedure to remove the cancer within the kidney and some of the tissue around it. A partial nephrectomy may be done to prevent loss of kidney function when the other kidney is damaged or has already been removed.
- Simple nephrectomy: A surgical procedure to remove the kidney only.
- Radical nephrectomy: A surgical procedure to remove the kidney, the adrenal gland, surrounding tissue, and, usually, nearby lymph nodes.
- These surgeries can be done through a variety of different approaches:
- Percutaneous: Needles are placed through the skin and no incisions are made. This is frequently done for cryoablation
- Laparoscopic: Small incisions are used to remove a tumor or kidney.
- Robotic: A surgeon uses a surgical robot to remove a kidney or kidney tumor through small incisions. This technique uses the same small incisions as laparoscopic surgery but allows for more complicated procedures.
- Open: Larger incisions allow for removal of very large kidney tumors.
A person can live with part of one working kidney, but if both kidneys are removed or not working, the person will need dialysis (a procedure to clean the blood using a machine outside of the body) or a kidney transplant (replacement with a healthy donated kidney). A kidney transplant may be done when the disease is in the kidney only and a donated kidney can be found. If the patient has to wait for a donated kidney, other treatment is given as needed.
When surgery to remove the cancer is not possible, a treatment called arterial embolization may be used to shrink the tumor. A small incision is made and a catheter (thin tube) is inserted into the main blood vessel that flows to the kidney. Small pieces of a special gelatin sponge are injected through the catheter into the blood vessel. The sponges block the blood flow to the kidney and prevent the cancer cells from getting oxygen and other substances they need to grow.
Even if the doctor removes all the cancer that can be seen at the time of the surgery, some patients may be given chemotherapy or radiation therapy after surgery to kill any cancer cells that are left. Treatment given after the surgery, to increase the chances of a cure, is called adjuvant therapy.
Radiation therapy is a cancer treatment that uses high-energy x-rays or other types of radiation to kill cancer cells or keep them from growing. There are two types of radiation therapy. External radiation therapy uses a machine outside the body to send radiation toward the cancer. Internal radiation therapy uses a radioactive substance sealed in needles, seeds, wires, or catheters that are placed directly into or near the cancer. The way the radiation therapy is given depends on the type and stage of the cancer being treated.
Chemotherapy is a cancer treatment that uses drugs to stop the growth of cancer cells, either by killing the cells or by stopping them from dividing. When chemotherapy is taken by mouth or injected into a vein or muscle, the drugs enter the bloodstream and can reach cancer cells throughout the body (systemic chemotherapy). When chemotherapy is placed directly into the spinal column, an organ, or a body cavity such as the abdomen, the drugs mainly affect cancer cells in those areas (regional chemotherapy). The way the chemotherapy is given depends on the type and stage of the cancer being treated.
Biologic therapy is a treatment that uses the patient's immune system to fight cancer. Substances made by the body or made in a laboratory are used to boost, direct, or restore the body's natural defenses against cancer. This type of cancer treatment is also called biotherapy or immunotherapy.
Targeted therapy uses drugs or other substances that can find and attack specific cancer cells without harming normal cells. Antiangiogenic agents are a type of targeted therapy that may be used to treat advanced renal cell cancer. They keep blood vessels from forming in a tumor, causing the tumor to starve and stop growing or to shrink.
New Treatments: Clinical Trials
Clinical trials explore new types of treatment. Information about current clinical trials is available from the National Cancer Institute website--clinical trial section (see also: clinical trials at the Masonic Cancer Center).