Kidney Cancer (Adult) - Renal Cell Carcinoma

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Treating Kidney Cancer TOPICS

Chemotherapy for kidney cancer

Chemotherapy (chemo) uses anti-cancer drugs that are given into a vein or by mouth (in pill form). These drugs enter your blood and reach all areas of the body, which makes this treatment potentially useful for cancer that has spread (metastasized) to organs beyond the kidney.

Unfortunately, kidney cancer cells are usually resistant to chemo, so chemo is not a standard treatment for kidney cancer. Some chemo drugs, such as vinblastine, floxuridine, 5-fluorouracil (5-FU), capecitabine, and gemcitabine have been shown to help a small number of patients. Still, chemo is often only used for kidney cancer after targeted drugs and/or immunotherapy have already been tried.

Doctors give chemotherapy in cycles, with each period of treatment followed by a rest period to allow the body time to recover. Chemo cycles generally last a few weeks.

Possible side effects of chemotherapy

Chemo drugs attack cells that are dividing quickly, which is why they often work against cancer cells. But other cells in the body, such as those in the bone marrow (where new blood cells are made), the lining of the mouth and intestines, and the hair follicles, also divide quickly. These cells are also likely to be affected by chemo, which can lead to certain side effects.

The side effects of chemo depend on the type of drugs, the amount taken, and the length of treatment. Possible side effects can include:

  • Hair loss
  • Mouth sores
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhea or constipation
  • Increased chance of infections (due to low white blood cell counts)
  • Easy bruising or bleeding (due to low blood platelet counts)
  • Fatigue (due to low red blood cell counts)

These side effects usually go away after treatment is finished. There are often ways to prevent or lessen them. For example, drugs can be given to help prevent or reduce nausea and vomiting. Specific chemo drugs may each cause specific side effects. Ask your health care team about the side effects your chemo drugs may cause.

For more general information about chemotherapy, please see the “Chemotherapy” section of our website, or our document A Guide to Chemotherapy. You can also learn more about each cancer drug listed here in our online Guide to Cancer Drugs, or you can call us (1-800-227-2345) for details.


Last Medical Review: 02/24/2014
Last Revised: 02/24/2014