Kidney Cancer Treatment Options

Like other types of cancer, the success of kidney cancer treatment depends on early diagnosis, the size of the tumor and if the tumors have spread beyond the kidneys. For those coping with kidney or renal cancer, the situation can be frightening. Knowing facts about kidney cancer and treatment options can help a patient understand the disease and make informed decisions about the care they choose.

Types of Treatment for Kidney Cancer

As with other types of cancer, treatment options for kidney cancer are varied and may include any combination of the following:

  • chemotherapy
  • immunotherapy
  • radiation
  • palliative care
  • surgery.

Chemotherapy for Kidney Cancer

Chemotherapy is a frequent medical protocol with many types of cancer. However, for the most frequently occurring type of kidney cancer, renal cell cancer, chemotherapy is not a preferred treatment. Renal cell cancer tends not to respond to chemotherapy as well as it does to other therapies.

Some types of chemotherapy medication can, however, mimic the effects of arterial embolization, which is a method of cutting off the blood flow to the affected area, thus shrinking the tumor.

Immunotherapy

Immunotherapy, or biotherapy, is one of the newest treatment options for kidney cancer. During immunotherapy, a patient receives a series of vaccinations to boost his immune system. The theory behind this treatment is that the now-bolstered immune system will be able to successfully target and attack abnormal, cancerous cells.

Although immunotherapy is still in experimental stages, studies have proved it to be an effective treatment method for kidney cancer, as well as other types of cancer.

The two primary biotherapies use interferon alpha and aldesleukin, two chemicals that the body may produce in an immune response. Treatment uses man-made versions of these substances to stimulate the immune system and suppress the cancer. Immunotherapy is often used if the cancer has begun to spread or after cancer has been removed to prevent re-growth of malignant cells.

Radiation

Radiation is a treatment option that exposes patients to intense high-energy waves that target and kill abnormal cells. Side effects are often experienced, due to the fact that that radiation can also destroy healthy cells. However, once radiation stops, side effects generally disappear.

Like chemotherapy, radiation therapy is rarely effective in treating renal cell carcinoma, especially in its early stages. Nevertheless, radiation is occasionally used to treat advanced cases of kidney cancer, particularly to kill remaining malignant cells that doctors may have missed during surgery.

Palliative Care

Palliative care is more appropriate should kidney cancer get to an advanced stage. Palliative care seeks to help a terminal or advanced kidney cancer patient cope with side effects of treatment methods (such as chemo and radiation). Additionally, palliative care provides physical and emotional support to cancer patients as they deal with end-of-life issues.

Surgery for Kidney Cancer

Surgical treatment for kidney cancer is often considered the most viable course of action in any stage. Part of or the entire kidney can be removed in order to excise the affected areas before the cancerous cells spread to other parts of the body.

Removal of the kidney, called a nephrectomy, can be very effective in treating this condition. While this type of renal surgery is a major procedure, it is considered relatively safe and routine, as thousands are successfully performed each year. A partial or radical (total) nephrectomy can help eradicate malignant tumors.

Transplants and Kidney Cancer

Although organ transplants may be used to treat some types of cancer, they aren’t an option for either kidney or lung cancer. This is because cancerous cells often spread to surrounding tissue and can reinvade a transplanted organ. Having an organ transplant is also a very invasive and difficult surgery, which is accompanied by a heavy and taxing drug protocol.

This drug protocol suppresses the immune system to ensure the body will not reject the new organ. Unfortunately, suppressing the immune system is in direct conflict with what is needed by a cancer patient-a strong and resilient immune system.

Resources

Cancer Research UK (2007). Chemotherapy for Kidney Cancer. Retrieved July 11, 2007 from the Cancer Help Web site: http://www.cancerhelp.org.uk/help/default.asp?page=4058.

Cancer Research UK (2007). Donating Organs to Someone With Cancer. Retrieved July 11, 2007 from the Cancer Help Web site: http://www.cancerhelp.org.uk/help/default.asp?page=14659.

Cancer Research UK (2007). Radiotherapy for Kidney Cancer. Retrieved July 11, 2007 from the Cancer Help Web site: http://www.cancerhelp.org.uk/help/default.asp?page=4051.

Kidney Cancer Association (2007). Surgical treatment. Retrieved July 11, 2007 from the Kidney Cancer Association Web site: http://www.kidneycancer.org/index.cfm?pageID=214.