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Living as a Kidney Cancer Survivor

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, yet it can be hard not to worry about cancer coming back. This is very common if you’ve had cancer.

Sometimes though, the kidney cancer might not go away completely. Some people may get regular treatment with immunotherapy or targeted therapy drugs or other treatments to try to keep the cancer in check. Learning to live with cancer that doesn’t go away can be difficult and very stressful. 

Follow-up care

It’s very important to go to all of your follow-up appointments.   Even if you have completed treatment, your doctors will still want to watch you closely. During these visits, your doctors will ask if you are having any problems and may order exams and lab tests or imaging tests to look for signs of cancer or treatment side effects. 

Almost any cancer treatment can have side effects. Some might only last for a few days or weeks, but others might last a long time. Some side effects might not even show up until years after you have finished treatment. Your doctor visits are a good time to ask questions and talk about any changes or problems you notice or concerns you have.

It’s very important to let your doctor know about any new symptoms or problems you have, so the cause can be found and treated, if needed.

Doctor visits

To some extent, how often you have follow up visits and tests (and which tests you have) will depend on the stage of your cancer, the treatment you received, and the risk that the cancer might come back.

For people who had early-stage cancer, many doctors recommend follow-up visits (which may include imaging tests and blood tests) a few months after treatment is done, and then about every 12 months for at least a few years after treatment.

For people who were treated for later stage cancers, follow-up visits with imaging and lab tests most likely will be every 3-6 months for a few years and then once a year.

Some doctors may advise different follow-up schedules.

Ask your doctor for a survivorship care plan

Talk with your doctor about developing a survivorship care plan for you. This plan might include:

  • A suggested schedule for follow-up exams and tests
  • A schedule for other tests you might need to look for long-term health effects from your cancer or its treatment
  • A list of possible late- or long-term side effects from your treatment, including what to watch for and when you should contact your doctor
  • Suggestions for things you can do that might improve your health, including possibly lowering your chances of the cancer coming back
  • Reminders to keep your appointments with your primary care provider (PCP), who will monitor your general health

Keeping health insurance and copies of your medical records

Even after treatment, it’s very important to keep 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.

At some point after your cancer treatment, you might find yourself seeing a new doctor who doesn’t know about your medical history. It’s important to keep copies of your medical records to give your new doctor the details of your diagnosis and treatment.

Can I lower my risk of kidney cancer progressing or coming back?

If you have (or have had) kidney cancer, you probably want to know if there are things you can do that might lower your risk of the cancer growing or coming back, such as exercising, eating a certain type of diet, or taking nutritional supplements.

Stopping smoking

If you smoke, it might help to know that some research suggests that stopping smoking is linked to a lower risk of the cancer progressing, as well as to longer survival. Stopping smoking can also help lower your risk of getting another smoking-related cancer. If you smoke and need help quitting, talk to your doctor or call the American Cancer Society at 1-800-227-2345.

Other things that might be helpful

At this time, not enough is known about kidney cancer to say for sure if there are other things you can do that will be helpful. Adopting healthy behaviors such as eating well, getting regular physical activity, and staying at a healthy weight  might help, but no one knows for sure. Still, we do know that these types of changes can have positive effects on your health that can extend beyond your risk of kidney cancer or other cancers.

About dietary supplements

So far, no dietary supplements (including vitamins, minerals, and herbal products) have been shown to clearly help lower the risk of kidney cancer progressing or coming back. This doesn’t mean that no supplements will help, but it’s important to know that so far, none have been proven to do so.

Dietary supplements are not regulated like medicines in the United States – they don’t have to be proven effective (or even safe) before being sold, although there are limits on what they’re allowed to claim they can do. If you’re thinking about taking any type of nutritional supplement, talk to your health care team.They can help you decide which ones you can use safely while avoiding those that might be harmful.

If the cancer comes back

If the cancer does return at some point, your treatment options will depend on where the cancer is, what treatments you’ve had before, and your overall health. Surgery, ablative treatments, radiation therapy, targeted therapy, immunotherapy, or some combination of these might be options. Other types of treatment might also be used to help relieve any symptoms from the cancer. For more on how recurrent cancer is treated, see Treatment Choices for Kidney Cancer, by Stage.

For more general information on recurrence, you may also want to see Understanding Recurrence.

Getting emotional support

It’s normal to feel depressed, anxious, or worried when kidney cancer is a part of your life. Some people are affected more than others. But everyone can benefit from help and support from other people, whether friends and family, religious groups, support groups, professional counselors, or others. Learn more in Life After Cancer.

Second cancers after treatment

People who’ve had cancer can be affected by a number of health problems, but often a major concern is facing cancer again. Cancer that comes back after treatment is called a recurrence. But some cancer survivors may develop a new, unrelated cancer later. This is called a second cancer.

Unfortunately, being treated for kidney cancer doesn’t mean you can’t get another cancer. People who have had kidney cancer can still get the same types of cancers that other people get. In fact, they might be at a higher risk of certain types of cancer, including:

  • A second kidney cancer (This is different from the first cancer coming back.) The risk of a second kidney cancer is highest in people who were diagnosed before age 50.
  • Bladder cancer
  • Cancer of the ureter (the tube that connects the kidney to the bladder)
  • Prostate cancer (in men)
  • Thyroid cancer
  • Melanoma of the skin

Can I lower my risk of getting a second cancer?

There are steps you can take to lower your risk of getting another cancer and staying as healthy as possible. For example, smoking is linked to an increased risk of kidney cancer and several other cancers, so if you smoke, stopping might help lower your risk for some of these cancers. Kidney cancer survivors should also try to:

  • Get to and stay at a healthy weight.
  • Keep physically active and limit the time you spend sitting or lying down.
  • Follow a healthy eating pattern that includes plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, and that limits or avoids red and processed meats, sugary drinks, and highly processed foods.
  • Avoid or limit alcohol. If you do drink, have no more than 1 drink per day for women or 2 drinks per day for men.

These steps might also lower your risk of many other health problems.

Survivors of kidney cancer should also follow the American Cancer Society Guidelines for the Early Detection of Cancer, such as those for breast, cervical, colorectal, and prostate cancer.

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team

Our team is made up of doctors and oncology certified nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as editors and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

 

National Comprehensive Cancer Network. NCCN Clinical Practice Guidelines in Oncology: Kidney Cancer. V1.2024. Accessed at https://www.nccn.org/professionals/physician_gls/pdf/kidney.pdf on December 15, 2023.

Rock CL, Thomson C, Gansler T, et al. American Cancer Society guideline for diet and physical activity for cancer prevention. CA Cancer J Clin. 2020;70(4):245-271.

Sheikh M, Mukeriya A, Zahed H, et al. Smoking cessation after diagnosis of kidney cancer is associated with reduced risk of mortality and cancer progression: A prospective cohort study. J Clin Oncol. 2023;41(15):2747-2755.

Wilson RT, Silverman DT, Fraumeni JF, Curtis RE. New Malignancies Following Cancer of the Urinary Tract. In: Curtis RE, Freedman DM, Ron E, Ries LAG, Hacker DG, Edwards BK, Tucker MA, Fraumeni JF Jr. (eds). New Malignancies Among Cancer Survivors: SEER Cancer Registries, 1973-2000. National Cancer Institute. NIH Publ. No. 05-5302. Bethesda, MD, 2006. Accessed at https://seer.cancer.gov/archive/publications/mpmono/MPMonograph_complete.pdf on December 15, 2023.

 

 

Last Revised: May 1, 2024

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