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Treatment for kidney cancer

Main treatments for kidney cancer

The treatment you have for kidney cancer will depend on:

  • the type of kidney cancer you have
  • where it is and how big it is
  • if it has spread
  • your general health

Treatment may include surgery, cryotherapy, radiofrequency ablation, targeted medicines, radiotherapy or chemotherapy.

The specialist care team looking after you will:

  • explain the treatments, benefits and any side effects
  • work with you to create a treatment plan that is best for you
  • help you manage any side effects


If kidney cancer is found early and it has not spread, you may be able to have surgery to remove it.

There are 2 main types of surgery for kidney cancer:

  • removing a kidney (nephrectomy)
  • removing the cancer but leaving as much of the kidney as possible (partial nephrectomy)

You may also need to have some lymph nodes, which are part of the body’s drainage system, removed.

You'll be supported through surgery and recovery by your specialist care team.

Blocking the blood supply to the cancer

If you're not well enough to have surgery, you may be offered a treatment to block its blood supply instead. This is called arterial embolism.

It can help to shrink the cancer and control your symptoms.


Cryotherapy is where small needles are passed through the skin to freeze the cancer cells. The frozen cells drop off and are replaced by normal cells.

You may have cryotherapy for kidney cancer if:

  • the cancer is small
  • you’re not well enough to have surgery

Radiofrequency ablation

Radiofrequency ablation is where radio waves are used to kill cancer cells. It’s given using a needle that’s passed through your skin into your kidney.

You may have radiofrequency ablation for kidney cancer if:

  • the cancer is small and you're too unwell to have surgery to remove it
  • the cancer is large or has spread, to help control your symptoms

Targeted medicines

Targeted cancer medicines aim to stop the cancer from growing.

You may have treatment with targeted medicines for kidney cancer if:

  • the cancer has spread to other parts of your body
  • the cancer has come back after treatment


Radiotherapy uses radiation to kill cancer cells.

It’s not used very often for kidney cancer, but is sometimes used to control symptoms if:

  • the cancer cannot be removed by surgery
  • the cancer has spread to other parts of your body


Chemotherapy uses medicines to kill cancer cells.

It’s not used very often for kidney cancer, but may be used if you have certain types of kidney cancer.

What happens if you've been told your cancer cannot be cured

If you have advanced kidney cancer, it might be very hard to treat. It may not be possible to cure the cancer.

If this is the case, the aim of your treatment will be to limit the cancer and its symptoms, and help you live longer.

You will be referred to a special team of doctors and nurses called the palliative care team or symptom control team.

They will work with you to help manage your symptoms and make you feel more comfortable. The clinical nurse specialist or palliative care team can also help you and your loved ones get any support you need.


Find out more

Page last reviewed: 31 May 2023
Next review due: 31 May 2026