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Radiation Therapy for Kidney Cancer

Radiation therapy uses high-energy rays or particles to kill cancer cells.

Radiation is sometimes used to treat kidney cancer if a person is not healthy enough to have surgery or has only one kidney. Sometimes other treatments will be tried first instead. When radiation therapy is used to treat kidney cancer, it is usually external beam therapy (EBRT), which focuses radiation on the cancer from a source outside the body. If radiation is used to treat a single area of cancer spread, for example in the lung, it is usually stereotactic body radiation therapy (SBRT), a special type of EBRT.

For people with kidney cancer, radiation therapy is more often used to palliate, or ease, cancer symptoms such as pain, bleeding, or problems caused by cancer spread (especially to the bones or brain).

Possible side effects of radiation therapy

Side effects of radiation therapy depend on where it is aimed and can include skin changes (similar to sunburn) and hair loss where the radiation passes through the skin, nausea, diarrhea, or tiredness. Often these go away after a short while. Radiation may also make side effects from some other treatments worse.

More information about radiation therapy

To learn more about how radiation is used to treat cancer, see Radiation Therapy.

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 oncology certified nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

Atkins MB. UpToDate. Overview of the treatment of renal cell carcinoma; This topic last updated: Aug 26, 2019. Accessed at on November 12, 2019.

Correa RJM, Louie AV, Staehler M, Warner A, Gandhidasan S, Ponsky L, et al. Stereotactic Radiotherapy as a Treatment Option for Renal Tumors in the Solitary Kidney: A Multicenter Analysis from the IROCK. J Urol. 2019;201:1097-1104. doi: 10.1097/JU.0000000000000111.

National Comprehensive Cancer Network. NCCN Clinical Practice Guidelines in Oncology: Kidney Cancer. V.2.2020. Accessed at: on November 12, 2019.

Last Revised: February 1, 2020

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