Chemotherapy for Kidney Cancer

Chemotherapy (chemo) uses anti-cancer drugs that are given into a vein (IV) or taken by mouth (as pills). These drugs enter your blood and reach nearly 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 usually do not respond well 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.

More information about chemotherapy

To learn more about how chemotherapy is used to treat cancer, see Chemotherapy.

To learn about some of the side effects listed here and how to manage them, see Managing Cancer-related Side Effects.

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team
Our team is made up of doctors and master’s-prepared nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

American Cancer Society. Cancer Facts & Figures 2017. Atlanta, Ga: American Cancer Society; 2017.

Atkins MB. UpToDate. Overview of the treatment of renal cell carcinoma; This topic last updated: Jun 13, 2017. Accessed at https://www.uptodate.com/contents/overview-of-the-treatment-of-renal-cell-carcinoma on June 16, 2017.

Lane BR, Canter DJ, Rini BI, Uzzo RG. Ch 63 - Cancer of the kidney. In: DeVita VT, Hellman S, Rosenberg SA, eds. Cancer: Principles and Practice of Oncology. 10th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 2015.

National Comprehensive Cancer Network. NCCN Clinical Practice Guidelines in Oncology: Kidney Cancer. V.2.2017. Accessed at: www.nccn.org on June 5, 2017.

Pili R, Kauffman E, Rodriguez R. Ch 82 - Cancer of the kidney. In: Niederhuber JE, Armitage JO, Doroshow JH, Kastan MB, Tepper JE, eds. Abeloff’s Clinical Oncology. 5th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Elsevier: 2014.

 

Last Medical Review: August 1, 2017 Last Revised: August 1, 2017

American Cancer Society medical information is copyrighted material. For reprint requests, please see our Content Usage Policy.