Treatment & Procedures

Once kidney cancer has been diagnosed, your doctor may recommend surgery, which is the most common treatment for kidney cancer. There are two options for kidney surgery.

  • The surgeon will usually need to remove only the part of the kidney where the tumor is located (partial nephrectomy) sparing the remaining kidney, which will continue to function.
  • In more advanced cases, it may be necessary to remove the entire kidney, the adrenal gland and the surrounding tissue (radical nephrectomy)..

The treatment your physician recommends is based on information about the type of tumor you have and how far it has spread, which is reflected in the “stage” of the tumor. There are two stages for kidney cancer:  the clinical stage is an estimate of the extent of your disease based on results from your physical exam, lab test and any image testing. If you have surgery, your doctor can determine the pathologic stage, which is based on the same factors as clinical staging, in addition to examination of the surgically removed tissue. This will also determine the size of the tumor, if it has spread (metastasized) to lymph nodes or to other parts of the body, such as the lung, liver or brain.

If one kidney is removed, the remaining kidney can do the work of both organs if it is healthy; if it is not healthy, you may need ongoing dialysis or a kidney transplant. Today, the majority of kidney surgeries can be performed using minimally invasive techniques such as laparoscopy and robotics, which result in less pain, less scarring and quicker recovery than traditional open surgical techniques. In addition to surgery, other approaches may be used to kill the tumor cells.

  • Cryotherapy: Your doctor inserts a hollow probe directly into the tumor and very cold gases are passed through the probe to create an ice ball that kills the cancer cells.
  • Radiofrequency ablation: A surgeon inserts a special probe directly into the tumor, and an electrical current is sent through the probe to heat and kill the cancer cells.
  • Radiation Therapy: Radiation therapy uses high-energy X-rays or other types of radiation to kill cancer cells or keep them from growing. Many different types of radiation can be employed, depending on the size and location of the tumor.
  • Targeted chemotherapy: This approach uses drugs to shrink a tumor or slow its growth by targeting specific characteristics of kidney cancer cells.
  • Immunotherapy: This therapy uses the body’s own natural immune defenses to destroy cancer cells. The treatment is usually given intravenously, either at the hospital or in your doctor’s office.

If diagnosed and treated at an early stage, most kidney cancers can be treated effectively while maintaining good long-term kidney function. Unfortunately, advanced cases that have already spread outside the kidney at diagnosis can be very difficult to treat successfully. This underscores the importance of diagnosing kidney cancer early.

Kidney Transplants
Each year Houston Methodist provides compassionate and comprehensive treatment to hundreds of patients who need kidney transplant surgeries. The Houston Methodist J.C. Walter Jr. Transplant Center is one of the largest kidney transplant programs in Texas, with the best patient outcomes of any program. More than 91 percent of kidney transplant patients rated their service as “exceptional” and would recommend it to others.

Our continued commitment to research enables us to improve present and future cancer care. Learn more about our current cancer-related clinical trials.