Radiation therapy for kidney cancer

Radiation therapy uses high-energy rays or particles to destroy cancer cells. It is sometimes used to treat kidney cancer. Your healthcare team will consider your personal needs to plan the type and amount of radiation, and when and how it is given. You may also receive other treatments.

Radiation therapy is given for different reasons. You may have radiation therapy to:

  • destroy tumours that cannot be safely removed by surgery
  • relieve pain or control the symptoms of advanced kidney cancer (called palliative therapy)

External radiation therapy

During external radiation therapy (also called external beam radiation therapy), a machine directs radiation through the skin to the tumour and some of the tissue around it. It is used to control pain and bleeding from a kidney tumour or symptoms of kidney cancer that has spread to the lungs, brain or bone.

Stereotactic radiotherapy delivers external radiation therapy in very precise amounts to the tumour and surrounding tissue. It gives smaller doses of radiation over a number of treatment sessions until the total dose is given. It is used to destroy early stage kidney tumours or cancer that has spread that cannot be removed by surgery. When there are many kidney cancer tumours in one area, stereotactic radiotherapy may also be used along with surgery to limit the number of surgeries needed.

Side effects

Side effects can happen with any type of treatment for kidney cancer, but everyone’s experience is different. Some people have many side effects. Other people have only a few side effects.

During radiation therapy, the healthcare team protects healthy cells in the treatment area as much as possible. But damage to healthy cells can happen and may cause side effects. If you develop side effects, they can happen any time during, immediately after or a few days or weeks after radiation therapy. Sometimes late side effects develop months or years after radiation therapy. Most side effects go away on their own or can be treated, but some side effects may last a long time or become permanent.

Side effects of radiation therapy will depend mainly on the size of the area being treated, the specific area or organs being treated, the total dose of radiation and the treatment schedule. Some common side effects of radiation therapy used for kidney cancer are:

Tell your healthcare team if you have these side effects or others you think might be from radiation therapy. The sooner you tell them of any problems, the sooner they can suggest ways to help you deal with them.

Questions to ask about radiation therapy

Find out more about radiation therapy and side effects of radiation therapy. To make the decisions that are right for you, ask your healthcare team questions about radiation therapy.

Expert review and references

  • Alberta Health Services . Renal Cell Carcinoma Clinical Practice Guideline GU-003 . Alberta Health Services ; 2017 : https://www.albertahealthservices.ca/.
  • American Cancer Society . Radiation Therapy for Kidney Cancer . 2017 : https://www.cancer.org/.
  • American Society of Clinical Oncology . Kidney Cancer: Treatment Options . 2017 : https://www.cancer.net/.
  • National Cancer Institute . Renal Cell Cancer Treatment (PDQ®) Health Professional Version . 2018 : https://www.cancer.gov/.
  • Reaume MN, Basappa NS, Wood L, et al . Management of advanced kidney cancer: Canadian Kidney Cancer Forum (CKCF) consensus update 2017 . Canadian Urological Association Journal . 2017 .

Medical disclaimer

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