Alternatives to surgery for kidney cancer

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If your cancer is small or you are not suitable for surgery your doctor may recommend one of the treatments below.

Arterial embolisation for kidney cancer

Arterial embolisation reduces the blood supply to the kidney to shrink the tumour. It is not a cure for kidney cancer, but it can stop it growing bigger. It may also be done before surgery. 

You will be given some medicine to make you sleepy. A narrow tube is put into the main blood vessel that flows to your kidney through a small cut in your groin.

Your surgeon injects small pieces of a special gelatin sponge through the tube into the blood vessel. The sponges block the blood flow to your kidney or to the part of the kidney that contains the cancer.

Thermal ablation for kidney cancer

This treatment uses heat to destroy the cancer cells. It takes about 20 minutes and is often done in the X-ray department.

A needle-type instrument is placed in the kidney tumour through your skin. A CT scan guides your doctor to the right place. A machine generates heat in the needle, which kills the cancer cells. You may have some discomfort for a few days afterwards. You will be given painkillers for this. You may also feel tired.

This treatment is easier on the body than surgery, but there is a slightly higher risk that some cancer cells may remain after treatment, so it would only be recommended if surgery isn’t an option for you.

Stereotactic radiotherapy

Stereotactic radiotherapy uses smaller, more precise radiation beams than standard radiotherapy. These beams are targeted at your tumour from several different angles, which combine to give a high dose of radiation. It may be used for small tumours that are not suitable for surgery.

Targeted therapies and immunotherapy for kidney cancer 

Targeted therapies are drugs that help to kill cancer cells or stop them from growing and spreading. Immunotherapy boosts your body’s immune system to fight cancer.

You doctor may recommend these drugs for you:

  • If the cancer has spread 
  • If the cancer returns after surgery

Cancer growth inhibitors are usually the first type of drug treatment for kidney cancer: These are also known as tyrosine kinase inhibitors (TKIs). Examples are: Sunitinib (Sutent®), axitinib (Inlyta®), pazopanib (Votrient®) and sorafenib (Nexavar®). These are taken as tablets.

If the growth inhibitor treatment you are on stops working, other drugs such as bevacizumab (Avastin®), everolimus (Afinitor®) or temsirolimus (Torisel®) may be used. They work in different ways to the growth inhibitors.

Read more about targeted therapies.


These drugs boost your immune system to attack the cancer cells and stop them growing. For example, interferon and interleukin 2.

Read more about immunotherapy.

For more information

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