Active surveillance, surgery, radiation, ablation, systemic therapy – this section offers further information on the various treatments that are currently used to treat kidney cancer.

What are the main types of treatment for kidney cancer?

The different types of treatment available for kidney cancer are:

  • Surgery
  • Systemic anti-cancer medications
  • Specialised radiation therapy
  • Ablative therapies.

Researchers have made tremendous progress over the past decade developing new treatments. This has provided clinicians with a variety of treatments for their patients. There are also a number of new and exciting medications, specialised radiation therapy and surgical techniques in development. Each type of treatment is used for a different reason. Often, a combination or a particular sequence of treatments is used.

Your clinician can explain which treatments would be suitable for your particular clinical situation. Together you can decide the best treatment for you.

Treatment choices

When you talk with your healthcare team about treatment choices, they may also offer you the option of “active surveillance” instead of starting treatment immediately. You might be offered the opportunity to join a clinical trial to test a new type of anti-cancer medication, medical procedure, or new way of delivering care. These trials test whether a new treatment is safe, effective and better than existing (standard) treatment.

You can discuss with your healthcare team whether you want to have treatment at all. This is your choice. Talking about it with your clinician and your family may help clarify your thinking and ensure the decision you make is the right one for you.

My cancer is only in the kidney: what treatments could I take?

It may seem strange, but for some people with small (stage 1) kidney cancers, the first best treatment is often observation, or “active surveillance”. If you have a larger cancer in the kidney, surgery is usually the first best treatment.

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Treatments to ensure that the cancer won't come back

In many cancers, people can take additional “insurance policy” treatments to reduce the chance of the cancer coming back. You may have heard of chemotherapy, hormone therapy or radiotherapy as additional (“adjuvant”) treatments for cancer.

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My kidney cancer has spread to other parts of the body: what treatment could I take?

In people with advanced kidney cancer, where the cancer has spread to distant organs, the cancer is usually not completely curable. The goal of treatment is therefore to make life as long and as normal as possible.

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Understanding Immuno-Oncology

Immuno-oncology (IO) therapy is a new (and old) way to treat cancer by activating your immune system in the hope that it will attack your tumour.

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How does the immune system work

When we talk about our “immune system” we are describing a wonderfully complex network of organs, cells and molecules that protect us from infection and disease.

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Side effects of immuno-oncological treatment

As a kidney cancer patient, you should be aware that the side effects of immuno-oncology treatments might be very different from side effects that you have experienced before on any prior therapies. For this reason, it’s important to understand a few basic facts about experiencing and reporting immuno-oncology side effects.

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Making a decision about your treatment

One way to think about the different treatments available is to imagine a toolbox full of different tools. Each tool (treatment) is designed to do a specific job. You and your healthcare team will gather as much information about your situation as possible to make sure you choose the right tool (treatment) for the job at the right time. Your healthcare
team should help you find all the information you need to make the right decision for you.

You may want to contact your patient support organisation to get up-to-date information before making your decision. You may find it useful to talk about your situation with other kidney cancer patients who have faced a similar situation. They may be willing to share their experiences with you.

You can call on other types of support from your healthcare team to help you manage the disease on a day-to-day basis, such as supportive and palliative care. If your healthcare system doesn’t provide this option, contact your patient support organisation for advice; they will usually know the best way to access these support services.

You may need to discuss with your healthcare professional which treatment options or ‘tools’ are suitable and available to you at your hospital, or those you might need to travel for. You may need a combination of treatments, or you may decide to have none at all. It is important to discuss these issues with your family and your healthcare team. Make sure you have sufficient information to be able to make an informed decision. Always ask for additional information if you feel you need it.

For further information please refer to our Decision aid “My treatment, my choice”

Evidence-based guidelines

Patient advocates often use treatment guidelines to help patients advocate for best quality of standards of care. Many of the global guidelines for kidney cancer are listed below.

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Factsheet: Early stage kidney cancer
Factsheet: Advanced kidney cancer
Factsheet: Treatments for advanced kidney cancer
Infographic: Understanding IMDC criteria

Infographic “Understanding IMDC criteria for metastatic RCC” for download in English, German and French.

View/download infographic

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