Cedars-Sinai Blog

Managing a Kidney Cancer Diagnosis: Expert Advice

An older patient talks to a healthcare worker about kidney cancer.

As an oncology nurse at Cedars-Sinai's Samuel Oschin Comprehensive Cancer Institute, Nancy Moldawer has cared for her fair share of kidney cancer patients.

Oncology Nurse Nancy Moldawer

Her patients often experience no kidney-related concerns, but discover they have cancer after seeking treatment for other ailments. Only 30% of kidney cancer patients experience symptoms, which can include blood in the urine, a noticeable abdominal mass, and pain in the abdomen, sides, or back.

"Arming yourself with information and securing your support team will empower you to get through treatment."

Nancy's advice for newly-diagnosed kidney cancer patients:
  • It can be challenging to find the right specialist and medical team to help navigate the first steps. Ask your primary care doctor to refer you to a kidney cancer specialist or search for a specialist online.
  • Many local community oncologists only see a small number of kidney cancer patients per year, so plan to visit a larger medical center, even if requires travel. The peace of mind you'll feel from receiving the best, cutting-edge treatment and care will make the effort worthwhile.
  • Take the time to have an open, honest dialogue with your specialist before diving into treatment, despite the urge to begin right away. Get answers to all your questions before deciding on a treatment plan. If you're not sure where to start, I suggest asking these questions:
    • Will I need surgery?
    • When should I see a medical oncologist?
    • What will my recovery be like?
    • If I have surgery, what will the follow-up and treatment be like after surgery?
    • Should I consider clinical trials?
    • If I have a kidney removed, what dietary and other restrictions will I face?
  • Discuss family cancer history and risk factors with your care team. Gather as much of your family's health history as you can, including your parents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents. Ask your specialist for guidance about whether your children need to be tested for kidney cancer and determine whether your tumor should undergo genetic testing.
  • Surgery is one of the main treatment options for kidney cancer, so find a urological surgeon with cancer training who can provide an expert opinion about the surgical necessity and approach.
  • Ask your care team if there are any local support groups for kidney cancer patients available. These can be an invaluable source of information and comfort.

"Learning that you have kidney cancer can be a distressing time," says Nancy. "Arming yourself with information and securing your support team will empower you to get through treatment and feel more in control of your recovery. That’s my goal for patients."