Renal cell carcinoma (RCC) is the most common type of kidney cancer in adults. Many people living with RCC don’t experience noticeable symptoms until its later stages. But the side effects from kidney cancer treatment can be quite severe.
There are several different forms of treatment for RCC that each have their own set of side effects. Here are some helpful tips on how to cope with these following your kidney cancer treatment.
The most common treatment for kidney cancer is a surgical procedure known as nephrectomy. In this procedure, the kidney is either partially or entirely removed.
The side effects for nephrectomy are the same for many other types of surgery, and include:
- excess bleeding
You can manage these side effects with the help of your healthcare team. They can prescribe antibiotics to treat infections and pain medications to help deal with physical discomfort. If you experience excessive blood loss, you may require a transfusion.
In rare cases, more serious side effects of surgery can include:
- damage to other internal organs
- incisional hernias
- kidney failure
Following kidney cancer surgery, it’s important that you monitor how you’re feeling on a daily basis. Report any new side effects to your healthcare team as soon as possible.
Radiation therapy is another form of treatment for RCC. High-energy rays are used to destroy cancer cells and control the symptoms of advanced kidney cancer. The most common side effects of radiation therapy include skin problems, fatigue, diarrhea, and vomiting.
Radiation treatment often causes skin reactions like redness, itchiness, and dryness. Your doctor may prescribe a topical cream to help soothe the affected area.
Non-toxic moisturizers can also provide relief. Try bathing in cool or lukewarm water instead of hot water. Also, use a gentle laundry soap to wash your clothes and bed linens to prevent irritation.
You’ll likely feel like your energy levels are lower after receiving radiation treatment. This is normal. Try to get plenty of rest, and plan your schedule around the parts of the day when you have the most energy.
It can help to keep a journal of your daily activities and make note of the things that make you feel the most tired. Try to get as much physical activity as possible, even if it’s just going for a quick walk around the block.
Diarrhea and vomiting
Radiation therapy on the kidneys can sometimes cause irritation to the stomach and intestines. This can lead to side effects like nausea and diarrhea.
Over-the-counter medications are available to help manage these symptoms. It’s also important to drink plenty of fluids to avoid becoming dehydrated. Make sure that you don’t overdo it, though, as excess fluid intake can sometimes cause complications in people with reduced kidney functioning.
During chemotherapy, anti-cancer drugs are added to your bloodstream. These may be administered through an IV or an oral medication to reach nearly every part of your body.
This is useful for managing cancer that has spread to other organs in addition to the kidneys. But kidney cancer is generally not very responsive to chemotherapy, so it’s not used as commonly as other forms of treatment.
Since chemo drugs target cells that divide quickly, they are effective against cancer cells. Other cells that divide quickly, including those found in bone marrow, hair follicles, and the lining of the mouth and stomach, may also be affected. This can lead to side effects like easy bruising or bleeding, hair loss, and mouth sores.
Bruising and bleeding
If you’ve received chemotherapy for RCC, you should take extra care when moving around due to your heightened risk for bruising or bleeding. Keep an eye on any bruises that you develop, and report them to your healthcare team if they seem to take longer than usual to heal.
Hair loss is a common side effect of chemotherapy and one that can be difficult emotionally.
Try to treat your hair gently. Use a brush with soft bristles, and wash your hair with a gentle shampoo. Avoid using devices like hair dryers and straightening irons, and gently pat your hair dry after washing it.
Protect your scalp by wearing sunscreen or a hat while you’re outdoors. Also, try to find a comfortable scarf or hat to keep your head warm during the winter months.
Mouth sores from chemotherapy typically resemble small cuts or ulcers in the mouth. They can take up to four weeks to heal.
Try switching to a soft, nylon-bristled toothbrush, and soak it in hot water before brushing. Don’t use store-bought mouthwash, which often contains alcohol that will irritate your sores.
It can also help to rinse your mouth out before and after meals with one teaspoon of baking soda mixed into two cups of water. When planning your meals, avoid salty, spicy, and sugary foods, as well as acidic juices and carbonated drinks.
Immunotherapy is another form of treatment for RCC that uses natural and artificial substances to destroy cancer cells and help manage cancer symptoms.
The side effects for most immunotherapy treatments are similar to the symptoms mentioned above, including:
- skin problems
In some cases, certain immunotherapy drugs can produce severe side effects like:
- low blood pressure
- fluid buildup in the lungs
- intestinal bleeding
- heart attack
If you’re being treated with immunotherapy, it’s important that you stay in close contact with your healthcare team. Report any new side effects as soon as you notice them.
Although every form of treatment for RCC carries the risk of side effects, many of them are manageable with the help of your doctors. No matter what form of treatment you’re receiving, stay vigilant about monitoring how you feel. Don’t be afraid to ask your healthcare team about anything that seems off or unusual.