What happens after treatment for kidney cancer?
For some people with kidney cancer, treatment can remove or destroy the cancer. Completing treatment can be both stressful and exciting. You may be relieved to finish treatment, but find it hard not to worry about cancer coming back. (When cancer comes back after treatment, it is called recurrence.) This is a very common concern in people who have had cancer.
It may take a while before your fears lessen. But it may help to know that many cancer survivors have learned to live with this uncertainty and are leading full lives. See Living With Uncertainty: The Fear of Cancer Recurrence for more detailed information on this.
For other people, the cancer may never go away completely. Some people may get regular treatments with targeted therapy or other therapies to try to help keep the cancer in check. Learning to live with cancer that does not go away can be difficult and very stressful. It has its own type of uncertainty. See When Cancer Doesn’t Go Away for more about this.
If you have completed treatment, your doctors will still want to watch you closely. It’s very important to go to all of your follow-up appointments. During these visits, your doctors will ask questions about any symptoms and may do exams and lab tests or imaging tests (such as CT scans) to look for signs of cancer or treatment side effects.
Almost any cancer treatment can have side effects. Some can last for a few weeks to months, but others can last the rest of your life. This is the time for you to talk to your cancer care team about any changes or problems you notice and any questions or concerns you have.
For people whose kidney cancer has been removed by surgery, doctor visits (including physical exams and blood tests) are usually recommended about every 6 months for the first 2 years after treatment, then yearly for the next several years. A CT scan is usually recommended about 3 to 6 months after surgery and may be repeated later if there’s reason to suspect the cancer might have returned. (Treatment of recurrent cancer is discussed in “Treatment choices by stage for kidney cancer.”) Patients who have a higher risk of cancer coming back after surgery, such as cancer that had spread to lymph nodes, may be seen more often and have more frequent CT scans for the first few years.
Each type of treatment for kidney cancer has side effects that can last for a few months. You may be able to help your recovery by being aware of the side effects before you start treatment. You might be able to take steps to reduce them and shorten the length of time they last. Don’t hesitate to tell your cancer care team about any symptoms or side effects that bother you so they can help you manage them.
It’s also very important to keep your health insurance. Tests and doctor visits cost a lot, and even though no one wants to think of their cancer coming back, this could happen.
Should your cancer come back, see When Your Cancer Comes Back: Cancer Recurrence for information on how to manage and cope with this phase of your treatment.
Seeing a new doctor
At some point after your cancer diagnosis and treatment, you may find yourself seeing a new doctor who does not know anything about your medical history. It’s important to be able to give your new doctor the details of your diagnosis and treatment. Gathering these details soon after treatment may be easier than trying to get them at some point in the future. Make sure you have this information handy and always keep copies for yourself:
- A copy of your pathology report(s) from any biopsies or surgeries
- If you had surgery, a copy of your operative report
- If you had radiation, a copy of your treatment summary
- If you stayed in the hospital, a copy of the discharge summary that your doctor prepared when you were sent home
- If you had targeted therapy, immunotherapy, or chemotherapy, a list of the drugs, drug doses, and when you took them
- Copies of your CTs, MRIs, or other imaging tests (these can often be stored digitally on a DVD, etc.)
Last Medical Review: 02/24/2014
Last Revised: 02/10/2016