Treatments for renal cell carcinoma can cause side effects that range from mild to potentially life threatening in some people. Possible treatments include chemotherapy, kidney surgery, and immunotherapy.

Renal cell carcinoma is the most common type of cancer affecting the kidneys. It accounts for about 90% of all kidney cancer cases.

All treatments for renal cell carcinoma may cause side effects. This article discusses some of the potential side effects of the following renal cell carcinoma treatments:

  • kidney surgery
  • radiation therapy
  • immunotherapy
  • targeted therapy
  • chemotherapy

To discover more evidence-based information and resources for cancer, visit our dedicated hub.

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For renal cell carcinoma stages 1-3, experts recommend partial or radical (total) surgical removal of the kidney, or nephrectomy, along with removal of the tumor itself.

Surgeons typically use keyhole surgery, or laparoscopy, to perform a nephrectomy.

Partial nephrectomy

According to a small 2016 study of 68 people who underwent a laparoscopic partial nephrectomy, 12 people experienced one or more complications due to the procedure. This represents 17.64% of the total number of people involved in the study. The complications included:

Radical nephrectomy

An older study from 2013 looked at 558 people who underwent open radical nephrectomy, which is a less common and more invasive procedure than laparoscopic radical nephrectomy.

Some of the complications that people in the study experienced were:

Overall risks

Both types of nephrectomy carry some risks, including:

Radiation is a common form of therapy for several different cancers, including renal cell carcinoma. It uses high energy rays or particles to destroy cancer cells. It may be a good choice for people who have only one kidney or are not able to have surgery for health reasons.

Some common side effects include:

Healthcare professionals may use immunotherapy in later stages of renal cell carcinoma. It helps a person’s immune system target and attack cancer cells, which helps shrink or destroy tumors.

There are several types of immunotherapy for a doctor to choose from when recommending treatment. A person should let their doctor know if they experience side effects, as another immunotherapy option might be available that may not cause side effects for the person.

Side effects vary depending on the type of immunotherapy a person receives. However, side effects may include:

A doctor may recommend targeted therapy for stage 4 renal cell carcinoma treatment. Targeted therapy uses large molecule or small molecule drugs to destroy specific substances within cancer cells or weaken enzymes and proteins on the outside of these cells.

As with all kidney cancer treatments, targeted therapy may cause some side effects. Not everyone experiences side effects, and the severity of any side effects can vary among individuals.

Some potential side effects include:

Chemotherapy uses medications to kill or destroy cancer cells. People may take these medications orally or receive them as an intravenous infusion.

It is not a standard treatment for renal cell carcinoma because the cancer cells do not typically respond well to it.

Chemotherapy side effects vary depending on the medication, dosage, and length of treatment, but they may include:

People with renal cell carcinoma should speak with a healthcare professional about their treatment options and any potential side effects they may experience.

If a person is concerned about any of the side effects they are experiencing, they should speak with their doctor, who may be able to recommend an alternative treatment or ways to manage the side effects.

Renal cell carcinoma treatments can be safe and effective. However, they may also cause side effects that range from mild to potentially life threatening in severity.

Some people may not experience any side effects from renal cell carcinoma treatment. However, a person should speak with a doctor if they experience unpleasant or potentially serious side effects. In some cases, they may be able to switch treatments.