Kidney (Renal) Cancer

Cancer that develops in the kidneys is called kidney cancer (or renal cell carcinoma). The most common type of kidney cancer affects the lining of the tubules (very small tubes) inside the kidneys. This type of cancer is called renal cell carcinoma (RCC), and it accounts for 90 percent of all kidney cancers (see Figure below).

Treatment options for kidney cancer include surgery, targeted therapy or immunotherapy, used alone or together. Radiation therapy and chemotherapy are occasionally used. Surgery is often the primary treatment for most kidney cancers. Because kidney cancer is usually resistant to chemotherapy and radiation therapy, targeted therapy is typically the first line of treatment for advanced kidney cancer. This means the development of additional targeted therapies and immunotherapies is extremely important in the fight against this disease.

Kidney cancer has several immunotherapies available for treatment. One type is a laboratory-made cytokine which can be used to shrink tumors and reduce the risk of recurrence. Cytokines are proteins that enable cells to send messages to each other. Another immunotherapy is a monoclonal antibody that binds to the PD-1 receptor and blocks its interaction with PD-L1 and PD-L2. These FDA-approved drugs are used commonly and work by functioning as immune system messengers designed to elicit a desired response, such as preventing cancer cell growth or making the cancer cells more susceptible to an attack.

Immunotherapy offers hope for people with kidney cancer, but the currently approved immunotherapy drugs are not approved for treating all stages of the disease. So, talk with your doctor to see if these drugs are an option for your type and stage of kidney cancer.

Researchers have tested multiple combinations of the approved cytokines for advanced kidney cancer, and these treatments also have been combined with chemotherapy. Researchers are working to learn more about how the drugs destroy kidney cancer cells and which patients can benefit the most from these treatments. Newer forms of immunotherapy, called checkpoint inhibitors, also are being tested in clinical trials.

Clinical trials may offer you a chance to receive access to the newest medications and may help if current treatments are not working as effectively as expected, or if you have a particularly rare form of kidney cancer. Talk with your doctor to decide if an immunotherapy clinical trial is right for you. Discuss all of the treatment options available to you for your type and stage of kidney cancer with your doctor before making treatment decisions.


FDA-Approved Immunotherapies for Kidney (Renal) Cancer
As of 10/26/2016
interleukin-2 (Proleukin)
nivolumab (Opdivo)

Additional Resources


Previous Next



Register Now! Sign Up For Our Free E-Newletter!

Read Inspiring Cancer Survivor Stories

Order Your Guides Here