Steps to Take After a Kidney Cancer Diagnosis

Research shows many benefits of being an active member of the treatment team.

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“When a patient gets diagnosed with kidney cancer, they most certainly are scared,” says Joseph Pazona, MD, urologist in Nashville, TN. “You can also have anxiety, frustration, and even anger at your situation.”

One of the ways to deal with these emotions is to become an active member of your treatment team—even before the treatment starts. There are a number of ways to get organized and make sure you know what to expect during your treatment.

Research shows that patients with cancer who are more involved in their treatment—such as by researching their condition, asking questions, and participating in the decision-making process—are more likely to feel empowered and less stressed during treatment. In many cases, it can even result in better treatment outcomes.

After a kidney cancer diagnosis, the following three steps may be beneficial:

1. Make sure you understand your specific diagnosis

“The first step you should take after receiving a diagnosis of kidney cancer is … make sure you understand what your doctor just told you,” says Dr. Pazona. “This is new information. You’re probably scared. Make sure you ask good questions, and truly understand what it is that you have, and what treatment options are available.”

Consider asking your doctor questions like:

  • What type of kidney cancer do I have?

  • Where is the cancer located?

  • What is the stage / grade of the cancer, and what does that mean for me?

  • Will I need other tests before we can decide on treatment?

  • Do I need to see any other doctors or health professionals?

  • What are my treatment options?

Consider bringing a friend or family member along to help you listen, or even to take notes, just so you can have a second set of ears.

2. Ask about all your treatment options

There are many ways to treat kidney cancer. If it hasn’t spread to other parts of the body, surgery may be one of the best options, in which part or all of the affected kidney is surgically removed. 

But if surgery isn’t the best option—or if the cancer has spread beyond the kidneys—your treatment may also include targeted therapy or immunotherapy. Targeted therapy is medications that block certain things in the body that are helping the cancer grow, and immunotherapy is medications that help the body’s own immune system better recognize and attack cancer cells. Learn more about what immunotherapy is here.

3. Care for your mental health

Major depressive disorder affects about 1 in 4 people with cancer, according to the American Cancer Society. Even more patients experience general changes to their mental health and mood due to the stress and uncertainty of a cancer diagnosis.

“Whenever you hear what I call ‘the C word’ or cancer, it’s going to bring up a lot of emotions,” says Dr. Pazona. “It’s important to address these emotions and make sure you verbalize them to your loved ones and whoever else is in your support system.”

Managing your mental health during cancer treatment has many benefits, such as reducing symptoms of mental illness, improving your quality of life, and potentially even improving your treatment outcome. For example, if depression is hurting your appetite, you might accidentally lose weight, which can make cancer treatments less successful. 

Many oncology facilities will offer psychosocial support, but there are also things you can do on your own to care for your mental health during cancer treatment, such as talking with loved ones, practicing meditation, using deep breathing exercises, or trying medications for depression.

“Let your doctor know if you’re struggling with this. We’re here for you,” says Dr. Pazona. “No matter what it is you need, we can get you help, whether that’s in counseling, therapy, medication. Anything we can do to help relieve any fears or anxieties that you may have, please let us know.”