Skip to content

Medicare open enrollment has begun! Learn all about it in AARP's guide to Medicare made easy.

BrandAMP by AARP What's This?

5 Tips on Living with Kidney Cancer

Cancer patient shares ideas for staying positive

Carol Willis sitting with her family and friends

Carol Willis, center, with her family and friends.

Fear. Shock. Anger. These feelings are all too familiar for anyone who has been diagnosed with cancer or stood by a loved one with this disease. It’s both normal and common to feel overwhelmed at times, especially when thinking about what comes next.

Carol Willis* went through this whirlwind of emotions in 2015, when she was diagnosed with an advanced stage of renal cell carcinoma (RCC). RCC is the most common type of kidney cancer, accounting for 90% of all renal malignancies in adults. This year alone, around 63,000 people are expected to be diagnosed with kidney cancer in the U.S.

Through the many ups and downs of living with cancer, Carol has managed to stay positive. Below she shares five tips that have been helpful for her to keep in mind when facing cancer’s challenges.

5 Tips for Thriving with RCC, a Common Kidney Cancer

  1. Take a Deep Breath. Living with cancer has its challenges, which may feel like a heavy burden to bear. De-stressing techniques can help. Close your eyes, take five slow breaths and visualize doing something you love. Practice finding gratitude for the good things in life. 

  2. Ask for Help. No one has to fight cancer alone. Determine how friends or family members can help and ask for what you need. The people in your life will likely be happy to assist you with day-to-day activities like cooking and cleaning, accompany you to a medical appointment, put together a playlist of your favorite music or even just listen when you need to talk.

  3. Advocate for Yourself. Don’t be afraid to speak up. If you have questions or concerns, ask your doctors for more information – and seek out a second or third opinion if you want it.

  4. Build – and Expand – Your Support Network. Find out about local or online support groups. Meeting others who are going through or who have gone through something similar can be both informative and comforting.

  5. Get the Facts. Knowledge is power. Gather information and learn about the latest treatment options, including the most recent developments. The science of cancer therapy is constantly evolving, which may offer new hope to many people living with the disease.

“The time right after my diagnosis was one of the most difficult periods of my life,” Carol said. “I found strength and inspiration in my family, in learning as much as I could from my doctors and from the support of the kidney cancer community – all of which dramatically changed my outlook. I encourage anyone with RCC to seek out people and information that help them feel more empowered and confident.”

Like many others with RCC, Carol was diagnosed when the cancer had already spread throughout her body. But she refused to give up without exploring all possible options. Less than a year after her diagnosis, she and her doctors decided on a new type of therapy – a combination of two Immuno-Oncology treatments that work with the body’s immune system.

This immunotherapy combination, Opdivo® (nivolumab) + Yervoy® (ipilimumab), was recently approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to treat RCC in certain people when their cancer has spread.

INDICATION

OPDIVO® (nivolumab) is a prescription medicine used in combination with YERVOY® (ipilimumab) to treat kidney cancer (renal cell carcinoma) in certain people when their cancer has spread.

OPDIVO (10 mg/mL) and YERVOY (5 mg/mL) are injections for intravenous use.

It is not known if OPDIVO is safe and effective in children younger than 18 years of age.

Select Important Safety Information

Opdivo + Yervoy can cause problems that can sometimes become serious or life threatening and can lead to death. Serious side effects may include lung problems (pneumonitis); intestinal problems (colitis) that can lead to tears or holes in your intestine; liver problems (hepatitis); hormone gland problems (especially the thyroid, pituitary, adrenal glands and pancreas); kidney problems, including nephritis and kidney failure; skin problems; inflammation of the brain (encephalitis); problems in other organs; and severe infusion reactions. Additional serious side effects observed during a separate study of Yervoy alone include nerve problems that can lead to paralysis and eye problems. The most common side effects of OPDIVO, when used in combination with YERVOY, include: feeling tired; rash; diarrhea; nausea; fever; pain in muscle, bones, and joints; itching; abdominal pain; vomiting; cough; decreased appetite; and shortness of breath.

Study Design and Results

In a clinical trial of 847 previously untreated patients with kidney cancer that has spread and with one or more risk factors, 425 patients received treatment with Opdivo + Yervoy and 422 patients received sunitinib, a standard of care. Two years later (25.2 months), Opdivo + Yervoy was shown to lower the risk of dying by 37 percent compared to sunitinib. Sixty-seven percent of patients treated with Opdivo + Yervoy were alive after 25.2 months, compared to 56 percent of patients treated with sunitinib. More patients achieved a response with Opdivo + Yervoy (n=177) when compared to sunitinib (n=112). Tumors shrank or disappeared completely in 41.6% of patients who received Opdivo + Yervoy versus 26.5% of patients who received sunitinib. Tumors shrank (partial response) in 32.2% of patients receiving Opdivo + Yervoy and disappeared completely (complete response) in 9.4% of these patients – versus 25.4% and 1.2% of patients receiving sunitinib, respectively. There was no meaningful difference between the two treatment approaches in the length of time that patients lived without their tumors worsening.

For questions to ask your doctor about Opdivo + Yervoy, please click here.

INDICATION

OPDIVO® (nivolumab) is a prescription medicine used in combination with YERVOY® (ipilimumab) to treat kidney cancer (renal cell carcinoma) in certain people when their cancer has spread.

It is not known if OPDIVO is safe and effective in children younger than 18 years of age.

Important Safety Information for OPDIVO® (nivolumab) + YERVOY® (ipilimumab)

OPDIVO is a medicine that may treat certain cancers by working with your immune system. OPDIVO can cause your immune system to attack normal organs and tissues in any area of your body and can affect the way they work. These problems can sometimes become serious or life-threatening and can lead to death. These problems may happen anytime during treatment or even after your treatment has ended. Some of these problems may happen more often when OPDIVO is used in combination with YERVOY.

YERVOY can cause serious side effects in many parts of your body which can lead to death. These problems may happen anytime during treatment with YERVOY or after you have completed treatment.

Serious side effects may include:

  • Lung problems (pneumonitis). Symptoms of pneumonitis may include: new or worsening cough; chest pain; and shortness of breath.
  • Intestinal problems (colitis) that can lead to tears or holes in your intestine. Signs and symptoms of colitis may include: diarrhea (loose stools) or more bowel movements than usual; blood in your stools or dark, tarry, sticky stools; and severe stomach area (abdomen) pain or tenderness.
  • Liver problems (hepatitis). Signs and symptoms of hepatitis may include: yellowing of your skin or the whites of your eyes; severe nausea or vomiting; pain on the right side of your stomach area (abdomen); drowsiness; dark urine (tea colored); bleeding or bruising more easily than normal; feeling less hungry than usual; and decreased energy.
  • Hormone gland problems (especially the thyroid, pituitary, adrenal glands, and pancreas). Signs and symptoms that your hormone glands are not working properly may include: headaches that will not go away or unusual headaches; extreme tiredness; weight gain or weight loss; dizziness or fainting; changes in mood or behavior, such as decreased sex drive, irritability, or forgetfulness; hair loss; feeling cold; constipation; voice gets deeper; and excessive thirst or lots of urine.
  • Kidney problems, including nephritis and kidney failure. Signs of kidney problems may include: decrease in the amount of urine; blood in your urine; swelling in your ankles; and loss of appetite.
  • Skin Problems. Signs of these problems may include: rash; itching; skin blistering; and ulcers in the mouth or other mucous membranes.
  • Inflammation of the brain (encephalitis). Signs and symptoms of encephalitis may include: headache; fever; tiredness or weakness; confusion; memory problems; sleepiness; seeing or hearing things that are not really there (hallucinations); seizures; and stiff neck.
  • Problems in other organs. Signs of these problems may include: changes in eyesight; severe or persistent muscle or joint pains; severe muscle weakness; and chest pain.

Additional serious side effects observed during a separate study of YERVOY alone include:

  • Nerve problems that can lead to paralysis. Symptoms of nerve problems may include: unusual weakness of legs, arms, or face; and numbness or tingling in hands or feet.
  • Eye problems. Symptoms may include: blurry vision, double vision, or other vision problems; and eye pain or redness.

Getting medical treatment right away may keep these problems from becoming more serious.

Your healthcare provider will check you for these problems during treatment. Your healthcare provider may treat you with corticosteroid or hormone replacement medicines. Your healthcare provider may also need to delay or completely stop treatment, if you have severe side effects.

OPDIVO can cause serious side effects, including:

  • Severe infusion reactions. Tell your doctor or nurse right away if you get these symptoms during an infusion of OPDIVO: chills or shaking; itching or rash; flushing; difficulty breathing; dizziness; fever; and feeling like passing out.

Pregnancy and Nursing:

  • Tell your healthcare provider if you are pregnant or plan to become pregnant. OPDIVO and YERVOY can harm your unborn baby. Females who are able to become pregnant should use an effective method of birth control during and for at least 5 months after the last dose of OPDIVO. Talk to your healthcare provider about birth control methods that you can use during this time. Tell your healthcare provider right away if you become pregnant or think you are pregnant during treatment. You or your healthcare provider should contact Bristol-Myers Squibb at 1-800-721-5072 as soon as you become aware of the pregnancy.
  • Pregnancy Safety Surveillance Study: Females who become pregnant during treatment with YERVOY are encouraged to enroll in a Pregnancy Safety Surveillance Study. The purpose of this study is to collect information about the health of you and your baby. You or your healthcare provider can enroll in the Pregnancy Safety Surveillance Study by calling 1-844-593-7869.
  • Before receiving treatment, tell your healthcare provider if you are breastfeeding or plan to breastfeed. It is not known if either treatment passes into your breast milk. Do not breastfeed during treatment and for 3 months after the last dose of YERVOY.

Tell your healthcare provider about:

  • Your health problems or concerns if you: have immune system problems such as autoimmune disease, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, lupus, or sarcoidosis; have had an organ transplant; have lung or breathing problems; have liver problems; or have any other medical conditions.
  • All the medicines you take, including prescription and over-the-counter medicines, vitamins, and herbal supplements.

The most common side effects of OPDIVO, when used in combination with YERVOY, include: feeling tired; rash; diarrhea; nausea; fever; pain in muscle, bones, and joints; itching; abdominal pain; vomiting; cough; decreased appetite; and shortness of breath.

These are not all the possible side effects. For more information, ask your healthcare provider or pharmacist. Call your doctor for medical advice about side effects. You are encouraged to report negative side effects of prescription drugs to the FDA. Visit www.fda.gov/medwatch or call 1-800-FDA-1088.

Please see U.S. Full Prescribing Information and Medication Guide for OPDIVO  (PDF) and YERVOY (PDF), including Boxed WARNING regarding immune-mediated side effects for YERVOY.

Opdivo® and Yervoy® are trademarks of Bristol-Myers Squibb Company. © 2018 Bristol-Myers Squibb Company. All Rights Reserved. 7356US1801502-02-01 8/18