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What Happens During Chemotherapy for Kidney Cancer

Photo of intravenous drug bag

Most people get chemotherapy in an outpatient part of the hospital, at the doctor's office, or at home. You may go to a special chemotherapy-only clinic. Depending on which drugs you get and your health, you may stay in the hospital during treatment. You may get these drugs in pill form, by injection, or in more than one way.

For treatment of kidney cancer, chemotherapy has mostly been replaced by biologic therapies. However, according to the American Cancer Society, these chemotherapy drugs are still sometimes used in cases where targeted therapy and immunotherapy have not worked. Some of the chemotherapy drugs include:   

  • Gemzar (gemcitabine)

  • 5-FU (5-fluorouracil)

  • Xeloda (capecitabine)

You may take more than one drug. If so, it's called combination therapy. Which drugs you get and how often you get them depend on many factors. If you are having chemotherapy, you may have it combined with biological therapy. This combination is sometimes called biochemotherapy.

You get chemotherapy in cycles over a period of time. That means you may take the drugs more than once, interspersed by breaks between them. Having chemotherapy in cycles helps in more than one way.

  • It allows the drugs to kill more cancer cells. That's because cells aren't all dividing at the same time.

  • It allows your body to rest from the chemotherapy. Treatment damages quickly dividing normal cells, too, such as those in the lining of your mouth or stomach. 

Because you may need to have an IV for chemotherapy more than once, it can be helpful to have a venous access device or an indwelling catheter. This catheter is a small tube that remains in place for a long period of time so that you don't have a new IV started each time you get treatment. One end of the tube is placed into a vein near your heart. The other end is placed just under the skin or even comes out through the skin where it is available for connecting to the chemotherapy. Talk with your health care team about whether you should consider one and what the advantages and risks of having a venous access device or catheter may be.


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