Supportive care for kidney cancer

Supportive care can help you meet the physical, practical, emotional and spiritual challenges of kidney cancer. It is an important part of cancer care. There are many programs and services available to help meet your needs and improve the quality of life for you and your loved ones, especially after treatment has ended.

Recovering from kidney cancer and adjusting to life after cancer treatment is different for each person. Recovery depends on the stage of the cancer, the type of treatment and many other factors. The end of cancer treatment may bring mixed emotions. Even though treatment has ended, there may be other issues that you have to deal with, such as coping with long-term side effects.

If you’ve been treated for kidney cancer, you may have concerns about the following.

Living with one kidney

You can live a normal and healthy life with one working kidney or with only part of a kidney. Your remaining kidney tissue can still filter waste and extra water from the blood.

It’s important that you take care of your remaining kidney. You can help keep your kidney working properly by doing the following.

Quit smoking

Smoking is the strongest risk factor for developing kidney cancer. It also increases the risk that kidney cancer will come back, or recur. If you smoke, get help to quit.

Talk to a dietitian about your diet

When the remaining kidney is healthy, you usually don’t need to make any changes to your diet. If the remaining kidney is not completely healthy or you only have part of a kidney, talk to a dietitian about changes you can make to your diet.

Try to eat less protein such as meat, fish, eggs, milk and milk products or beans. Eating less protein may help protect the kidney. When the body digests protein, it makes a waste product called urea. The kidneys filter urea from the blood. If there is a large amount of urea in the blood from eating a diet that is high in protein, the remaining kidney has to work harder.

Lower the amount of salt in your diet. The kidneys filter salt from the blood. If there are high levels of salt in your food, the remaining kidney has to work harder.

Limit how much phosphorus you eat. When your kidneys aren’t working very well, the phosphorus levels in your blood may go up. This can cause problems like joint pain. The answer may be to limit foods that are high in phosphorus, such as seeds, nuts and beans, as well as foods containing moderate amounts of phosphorus such as milk, cheese, meat, fish, and poultry.

Watch how much liquid you take in. Staying well-hydrated is important, but extra fluids can strain your kidney function.


Limit the amount of alcohol you drink. Drinking large amounts of alcohol can cause kidney damage. If you choose to drink alcohol, keep it to less than 1 alcoholic drink a day if you’re a women and less than 2 alcoholic drinks a day if you’re a man.


When the kidneys don’t work properly (called kidney failure), dialysis is used to remove wastes from the blood. Kidney failure may be a short-term or long-term side effect of treatments for kidney cancer. In rare cases, people may need to have dialysis for the rest of their lives because both kidneys were removed or their one working kidney was removed.

Types of dialysis

Dialysis can be done in 2 ways.


Hemodialysis uses a machine to filter wastes and extra water from the blood. A special tube, called a dialysis catheter, is placed into a large vein in your body. Your blood is removed from your body in small amounts, filtered by the machine and then returned to your body.

You will have hemodialysis 3 times a week. You will be connected to the machine for a number of hours for each hemodialysis session. If you need to be on dialysis for the rest of your life, the surgeon will place a permanent access to your bloodstream during a surgical procedure.

Peritoneal dialysis

Peritoneal dialysis is also called continuous ambulatory peritoneal dialysis (CAPD). It uses the membrane that surrounds the organs in your abdominal cavity (called the peritoneum).

The doctor places a tube, or catheter, through the muscles in your abdomen. This tube is left in place permanently. During dialysis, the healthcare team attaches bags containing a special dialysis solution to the catheter. This solution flows into your abdomen. The peritoneum allows waste products and extra fluid to pass from the blood into the dialysis solution. The dialysis solution remains in your abdomen for several hours absorbing the wastes. The solution is then drained and replaced with fresh solution.

The advantage of peritoneal dialysis is that it can be done at home, which allows you to continue your activities of daily living.

Dialysis diet

A dietitian may suggest a special diet to help keep you healthy while you’re on dialysis. They may suggest:

  • limiting the amount of fluids that you drink
  • eating a high-protein diet (because protein is lost during dialysis)
  • lowering the amount of salt and potassium in your diet
  • taking vitamin supplements

Kidney transplant

In rare cases, a person with kidney cancer has to have both kidneys removed. People who have both kidneys removed need to be on dialysis for the rest of their lives.

Some people who have had kidney cancer will have a kidney transplant through organ donation. In most cases, you must be free from cancer for 2 years after treatment to be considered for transplant. If your tumour was very small, you may not need to wait for a transplant. You may have to wait up to 5 years if the tumour was very large or invasive or it caused symptoms that led to your diagnosis.

Talk to your transplant surgeon about the risks and benefits of a kidney transplant. After a transplant, you would need to take drugs that prevent your body from rejecting the new kidney. These drugs increase your risk of developing a second cancer.

See a list of questions to ask your doctor about supportive care after treatment.