Supportive care for kidney cancer

Supportive care helps people meet the physical, practical, emotional and spiritual challenges of kidney cancer. It is an important part of cancer care. There are many programs and services available to help meet the needs and improve the quality of life of people living with cancer and their loved ones, especially after treatment has ended.

Recovering from kidney cancer and adjusting to life after treatment is different for each person, depending on the stage of the cancer, the type of treatment and many other factors. The end of cancer treatment may bring mixed emotions. Even though treatment has ended, there may be other issues to deal with, such as coping with long-term side effects. A person who has been treated for kidney cancer may have the following concerns.

Living with one kidney

You can live a normal and healthy life with one working kidney or with only part of a kidney. Your remaining kidney tissue can still filter waste and extra water from the blood.

It’s important that you take care of your remaining kidney. You can help keep your kidney working properly by doing the following.

Quit smoking

Smoking is the strongest risk for developing kidney cancer. It also increases the risk that kidney cancer will come back. If you smoke, get help to quit.

Talk to a dietitian about your diet

When the remaining kidney is healthy, you usually don’t need to make any changes to your diet. If the remaining kidney is not completely healthy or you only have part of a kidney, talk to a dietitian about changes you can make to your diet.

Try to eat less protein such as meat, fish, eggs, milk and products or beans. Eating too much protein puts stress on the kidney.

Lower the amount of salt in your diet. Avoid pretzels, chips, popcorn, cured and canned meat, fish and poultry. Don’t add salt to your food and limit how often you eat food from restaurants. The kidneys filter salt from the blood. If there are high levels of salt in your food, the remaining kidney has to work harder.

Limit how much phosphorus you eat. When your kidneys aren’t working very well, the phosphorus levels in your blood may go up. This can cause problems like joint pain. Your dietitian may suggest you limit foods that are high in phosphorus, such as nuts, seeds, peanut butter, lentils and beans.

Limit how much fluid you take in, such as water, coffee, tea, soup, gelatin dessert and ice cream. Staying well-hydrated is important, but extra fluids can put a strain on your kidneys.

Limit alcohol. Drinking alcohol can affect the kidneys. It can also increase your risk of developing cancer. Find out more about how to limit alcohol.


When the kidneys don’t work properly (called kidney failure), dialysis is needed to remove wastes from the blood. Kidney failure may be a short-term or long-term side effect of treatments for kidney cancer. In rare cases, people may need to have dialysis for the rest of their lives because both kidneys were removed, or their one working kidney was removed.


Hemodialysis uses a machine to filter wastes and extra water from the blood. A special tube (called a dialysis catheter) is placed into a large vein in your body. Your blood is removed from your body in small amounts, filtered by the machine and then returned to your body.

You will have hemodialysis 3 times a week. You will be connected to the machine for a number of hours for each hemodialysis session. If you need to be on dialysis for the rest of your life, the surgeon will place a permanent access to your bloodstream during a surgical procedure.

Peritoneal dialysis

Peritoneal dialysis uses the membrane that surrounds the organs in your abdominal cavity (called the peritoneum). The most common type of peritoneal dialysis is called continuous ambulatory peritoneal dialysis (CAPD).

The doctor places a tube (catheter) through the muscles in your abdomen. This tube is left in place permanently. During dialysis, the healthcare team attaches bags filled with a special dialysis solution to the tube. This solution flows into your abdomen. The peritoneum allows waste products and extra fluid to pass from the blood into the dialysis solution. The dialysis solution stays in your abdomen for many hours absorbing the wastes. The solution is then drained and replaced with fresh solution.

The advantage of peritoneal dialysis is that it can be done at home, which allows you to continue your activities of daily living.

Dialysis diet

A dietitian may suggest a special diet to help keep you healthy while you’re on dialysis. They may suggest:

  • limiting the amount of fluids that you take in
  • eating a high-protein diet (because protein is lost during dialysis)
  • lowering the amount of salt, potassium and phosphorus in your diet

Questions to ask about supportive care

To make decisions that are right for you, ask your healthcare team questions about supportive care.

Expert review and references

Medical disclaimer

The information that the Canadian Cancer Society provides does not replace your relationship with your doctor. The information is for your general use, so be sure to talk to a qualified healthcare professional before making medical decisions or if you have questions about your health.

We do our best to make sure that the information we provide is accurate and reliable but cannot guarantee that it is error-free or complete.

The Canadian Cancer Society is not responsible for the quality of the information or services provided by other organizations and mentioned on, nor do we endorse any service, product, treatment or therapy.

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