- How is kidney cancer treated?
- Surgery for kidney cancer
- Ablation and other local therapy for kidney cancer
- Active surveillance for kidney cancer
- Radiation therapy for kidney cancer
- Chemotherapy for kidney cancer
- Targeted therapies for kidney cancer
- Biologic therapy (immunotherapy) for kidney cancer
- Pain control for kidney cancer
- Clinical trials for kidney cancer
- Complementary and alternative therapies for kidney cancer
- Treatment choices by stage for kidney cancer
- More treatment information about kidney cancer
Radiation therapy for kidney cancer
Radiation therapy uses high-energy radiation to kill cancer cells. External beam therapy focuses radiation from outside the body on the cancer. It is like getting an x-ray, but the radiation is much more intense. The procedure itself is painless.
Kidney cancers are not very sensitive to radiation. Radiation therapy can be used to treat kidney cancer if a person's general health is too poor for them to have surgery. For patients who can have surgery, using radiation therapy before or after removing the cancer is not routinely recommended because studies have not shown that this helps people live longer.
Radiation therapy is more often used to palliate, or ease, symptoms of kidney cancer such as pain, bleeding, or problems caused by cancer spread (especially to the bones or brain).
A special type of radiation therapy known as stereotactic radiosurgery can sometimes be used for single tumors that have spread to the brain. This procedure does not actually involve surgery. There are 2 main techniques for stereotactic radiosurgery, but they all use the same principle of pinpoint radiation. In one technique, several beams of high-dose radiation are focused on the tumor from different angles over a few minutes to hours. The second technique uses a movable linear accelerator that is controlled by a computer (a linear accelerator is a machine that produces x-ray beams). Instead of delivering many beams at once, the linear accelerator moves around to deliver radiation to the tumor from different angles. In either approach, the patient's head is kept in the same position by placing it in a rigid frame. This type of treatment can also be used for areas of cancer spread outside of the brain. When it is used to treat cancer elsewhere, it is called stereotactic body radiotherapy.
Side effects of radiation therapy may include mild skin changes (similar to sunburn), hair loss, nausea, diarrhea, or tiredness. Often these go away after a short while. Radiation may also make side effects from some other treatments worse. Radiation therapy to the chest area can damage the lungs and lead to shortness of breath. Side effects of radiation to the brain usually become most serious 1 or 2 years after treatment and can include headaches and trouble thinking.
Last Medical Review: 11/08/2012
Last Revised: 01/18/2013