Prioritizing Your Health When You Have Kidney Cancer

Five ways people with kidney cancer can focus on physical and mental wellbeing.

Medically reviewed in April 2021

If you are undergoing treatment for advanced renal cell carcinoma (RCC), you want to give yourself the best chance of success. The most important step will always be working with the right healthcare team—made up of healthcare providers who specialize in urology and oncology—to learn as much as you can about your diagnosis and the treatment options available.

In addition to working with your healthcare team, focusing on your everyday habits can play an important role in your treatment. Here, we look at five areas of your life to prioritize after a diagnosis of kidney cancer.

Physical activity is a key pillar of overall health and can have numerous benefits when you are treating kidney cancer. These benefits include:

  • Improving or maintaining physical strength and endurance, which can help your body hold up to the demands of treatment
  • Improving energy levels and easing fatigue
  • Improving the health of the immune system
  • Improving mental wellbeing. Regular exercise is associated with better moods, better emotions, and a better outlook—all things that are important when treating cancer

Additionally, one study found that people with kidney cancer who exercise regularly decrease their risk of mortality by half.

The takeaway is that if you already exercise regularly, it is important to keep exercising. And if you do not exercise regularly, there has never been a time to start.

Kidney cancer impacts a wide variety of people with different exercise habits and different levels of fitness. It’s likely that a person will need to adjust their exercise habits during treatment. Some people might find themselves being more active, while others may need to adjust the intensity, duration, and the types of exercise they perform.

Like other aspects of treating kidney cancer, there is no “one size fits all” approach to nutrition. People with kidney cancer have different nutritional needs and are advised to work with a registered dietitian.

While everyone’s nutritional needs are a little bit different, people with kidney cancer are advised to eat a well-balanced diet that contains plenty of vegetables, fruits, and whole grains. Depending on the health of the other kidney, a person may be advised to limit certain foods, including:

  • Protein
  • Foods containing phosphorous
  • Salt and sodium
  • Saturated fats
  • Foods high in sugar
  • Alcohol

People with kidney cancer may also need to limit the amount of fluid they consume. Talk to your healthcare providers about how many ounces of fluid you should be drinking each day.

Quit smoking
If you smoke, quit. Continuing to smoke after a kidney cancer diagnosis is associated with worse outcomes. Smoking is also associated with other serious health conditions, including other types of cancer. Your healthcare team can help you quit smoking—including prescribing medications and other cessation treatments. Smokers and nonsmokers alike should avoid secondhand smoke.

Mental and emotional wellbeing
Living with cancer can be a burden on your mental and emotional wellbeing. Depression and anxiety are common among people with kidney cancer, and many experience negative thoughts, feelings, and emotions that can be difficult to process and talk about.

Remember that you are not on your own when it comes to these aspects of your health. Consider working with a mental health practitioner (such as a therapist or social worker). You might also consider connecting with others who are living with cancer through a support group.

Also, make time for the things you enjoy, whether it’s a hobby, time with a friend, reading a book, or listening to music. Don’t underestimate the value of activities that make you happy and lower your stress level.

A cancer diagnosis can generate a lot of paperwork—test results, prescriptions, insurance documents, out-of-pocket expenses. Come up with a system for staying organized. Being able to find a piece of information when you need it can help save you time and stress.

Medically reviewed in April 2021.

American Cancer Society. "Kidney Cancer Treatment."
Winchester Hospital. "Lifestyle Changes to Manage Kidney Cancer."
Michael Liss, Loki Natarajan, et al. "Physical Activity Decreases Kidney Cancer Mortality." Current Urology, 2017. Vol. 10, No. 4.
Canadian Cancer Society. "Supportive care for kidney cancer."
Kristie L. Kahl. "Addressing Nutrition in Patients with Kidney Cancer." Cure. October 12, 2019.
Ed Susman. "Smoking and Renal Cancer a Fatal Combination." Oncology Times, 2016. Vol. 38, No. 6.
Cancer.Net. "Kidney Cancer: Coping with Treatment."
Yi-Long Yang, Li Liu, Meng-Yao Li,Meng Shi, Lie Wang. "Psychological Disorders and Psychosocial Resources of Patients with Newly Diagnosed Bladder and Kidney Cancer: A Cross-Sectional Study." PLOS ONE, 2016.
Mayo Clinic. "Kidney Cancer."
Patient Resource. "Managing Cancer-Related Paperwork."

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