Getting a renal cell carcinoma (RCC) diagnosis can be frightening. You might not know what to expect, or which treatments can help you live longer. That’s where your oncologist comes in.
A cancer specialist can answer any questions you have, help you understand how to treat your disease, and tell you what to expect moving forward.
Take this list of questions with you to your next appointment. Learn as much as you can about your cancer, so you can feel more confident about the decisions you make.
1. What do my test results mean?
Your doctor will diagnose renal cell carcinoma using imaging tests like computed tomography (CT), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), positron emission tomography (PET), and ultrasound. These tests can detect growths in your kidneys and other parts of your body, and help determine whether they might be cancer.
A chest X-ray or bone scan can be done to see where your cancer has spread. Your doctor might also remove a small piece of your kidney to analyze in a laboratory. This test is called a biopsy.
Based on the size of your tumor and where it has spread, your doctor will assign your cancer a stage from 1 to 4.
2. Where has my cancer spread?
Metastatic renal cell carcinoma means that your cancer has spread beyond your kidney. It may have spread to your adrenal gland, to nearby lymph nodes, or to distant organs. The most common places for kidney cancer to spread are the lungs, bones, and brain.
3. What is my outlook?
Your outlook, or prognosis, is the course your cancer is likely to take. Your doctor might use the term prognosis to tell you how long you’re likely to live, or the odds that your cancer can be cured. This information is usually based on studies of people who have the same diagnosis.
Remember that your outlook is just an estimate — it’s not definite. Everyone with cancer is different. By getting the right treatment, you can significantly improve your prospects.
4. What are my treatment options?
Late-stage renal cell carcinoma is treated with surgery, immunotherapy, targeted therapy, and/or chemotherapy.
If the first treatment you try doesn’t work, your doctor can switch you to another type of treatment.
5. Which treatment do you recommend for me?
Your doctor will prescribe a treatment based on how far your cancer has spread and how healthy you are.
If your cancer hasn’t spread much beyond your kidney, surgery may be the first option you try.
If your cancer has spread, body-wide treatments like targeted therapy or immunotherapy could be a better choice.
6. Why are you recommending this treatment? How do you expect it to help my cancer?
Find out what to expect from your treatment. Some therapies are designed to slow or stop your cancer’s growth. Others might offer a cure.
Your doctor may also recommend treatments to relieve your symptoms. These are called palliative therapies.
7. Will my treatment cause side effects? How can I manage them?
Each treatment for renal cell carcinoma has its own set of possible side effects. Surgery can cause bleeding and infection. Immunotherapy can cause flu-like symptoms. And chemotherapy can cause nausea, hair loss, and an increased risk for infections.
Just because a treatment can cause certain side effects doesn’t mean it will. But you should know what to expect, and when a side effect is severe enough to warrant a call to your doctor.
8. Which doctors or other medical professionals will I need during treatment?
Many different medical professionals treat renal cell carcinoma. These include oncologists (cancer doctors), nurses, radiation oncologists, and surgeons.
Find out who will be on your cancer team, and which one of them will be in charge of your care.
9. What can I do to stay healthy during treatment?
Taking good care of yourself during cancer treatment can help strengthen you and make you feel better. Try to stay as active as possible, get plenty of rest, and eat nutritious meals.
If it’s difficult to eat because of your cancer or treatment, seek advice from a dietician.
10. Should I consider taking part in a clinical trial? Which one do you recommend?
A clinical trial is a way for you to try out a new treatment that’s not yet available to the public. It may be an option if your cancer treatment has stopped working.
Sometimes a treatment that’s being tested in a clinical trial works better than currently available therapies. The availability of clinical trials is always changing, and each trial may have specific eligibility requirements.
11. Can you recommend a support group or other resource to help me cope with my cancer and treatment?
A support group can help you deal with the emotional impact of your diagnosis by connecting you with other people who are also being treated for renal cell cancer.
You can find a kidney cancer support group through your hospital or oncologist. You can also get support by meeting with a counselor or social worker who specializes in helping people with renal cell cancer.