This is a difficult question to answer, because each person is an individual and their cancer responds differently to each treatment. Also, doctors are never completely certain that all the cancer has been removed during surgery and by other treatments; cancer cells that can’t be seen with CT scans could be carried in the lymphatic system or blood stream to trigger a recurrence of the cancer at a later date.
If the cancer is removed by surgery at an early stage, i.e. when it is contained within the kidney and has not spread, then you stand a good chance of living a long time. However, regular check-ups are essential for all kidney cancer patients, including those who appear to be free from the disease after surgery, to check for recurrence and kidney disease.
If the cancer has spread outside the kidney, and to other organs, such as the lymph nodes, lungs, liver, bones or brain, then the cancer is unlikely to be cured. In these cases, the disease can be kept under control for many months, or even years, with medicines such as vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) inhibitors (also called tyrosine kinase inhibitors, TKIs), e.g. sunitinib, pazopanib, axitinib, cabozantinib or lenvatinib immunotherapies, e.g. nivolumab, ipilimumab, pembrolizumab, or avelumab or a combination of these medicines.
Some patients respond better than others to treatment, and a very small proportion of patients may even go into remission and their cancer disappears completely. It is not yet known why some patients respond better than others, but we are learning more each year about the biochemical pathways in cancer cells that determine response to various treatments.
Please see Kidney cancer medicines on our website for a list of currently available medications for RCC in the UK.
Cancer Research UK: Kidney cancer
Cancer Research UK: Stereotactic radiotherapy
Macmillan: Kidney cancer
NHS: Kidney cancer
European Association of Urology (EAU) Renal Cell Carcinoma guidelines: 7. Disease management
Further reading: Action Kidney Cancer Essential guide: Treatment for advanced renal cell carcinoma (RCC)
Updated: October 2023 Next review: October 2025