Renal Cell Cancer


Treatment for renal cell cancer, also referred to as renal cell carcinoma, depends on the stage of the disease, the patient's general health and age, and other factors. The doctor develops a renal cell cancer treatment plan to fit each patient's needs.

People with renal cell cancer often receive treatment by a team of specialists, which may include a urologist, an oncologist, and a radiation oncologist. Renal cell cancer is usually treated with surgery, radiation therapy, biological therapy, chemotherapy, or hormone therapy. Sometimes a special renal cell carcinoma treatment called arterial embolization is used. The doctors may decide to use one treatment method or a combination of methods.

Surgery is the most common treatment for renal cell 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 may also be removed. This procedure is called a radical nephrectomy. In some cases, the surgeon removes only the kidney (simple nephrectomy). The remaining kidney generally is able to perform the work of both kidneys. In another procedure, partial nephrectomy, the surgeon removes just the part of the kidney that contains the tumor.

Arterial embolization is sometimes used before an operation to make renal cell carcinoma surgery easier. It also may be used to provide relief from pain or bleeding when removal of the tumor is not possible. Small pieces of a special gelatin sponge or other material are injected through a catheter to clog the main renal blood vessel. This procedure shrinks the tumor by depriving it of the oxygen-carrying blood and other substances it needs to grow.

Radiation therapy (also called radiotherapy) uses high-energy rays to kill cancer cells. Doctors sometimes use radiation therapy to relieve pain (palliative therapy) when renal cell cancer has spread to the bone.

Radiation therapy for renal cell 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, renal cell carcinoma treatment is given on an outpatient basis in a hospital or clinic 5 days a week for several weeks. This schedule helps protect normal tissue by spreading out the total dose of radiation. The patient does not need to stay in the hospital for radiation therapy, and patients are not radioactive during or after renal cell carcinoma treatment.

Surgery and arterial embolization are local therapy; they affect cancer cells only in the treated area. Biological therapy, chemotherapy, and hormone therapy, explained below, are systemic treatments because they travel through the bloodstream and can reach cells throughout the body.

Biological therapy (also called immunotherapy) is a form of treatment that uses the body's natural ability (immune system) to fight cancer. Interleukin-2 and interferon are types of biological therapy used to treat advanced renal cell cancer. Clinical trials continue to examine better ways to use biological therapy while reducing the side effects patients may experience. Many people having 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 renal cell cancer. However, researchers continue to study new drugs and new drug combinations that may prove to be more useful in treating renal cell cancer.

Hormone therapy is used in a small number of patients with advanced renal cell cancer. Some renal cell cancers may be treated with hormones to try to control the growth of cancer cells. More often, it is used as palliative therapy.

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