Kidney Cancer: Latest Research

Approved by the Cancer.Net Editorial Board, 09/2022

ON THIS PAGE: You will read about the scientific research being done to learn more about kidney cancer and how to treat it. Use the menu to see other pages.

Doctors are working to learn more about kidney cancer, ways to prevent it, how to best treat it, and how to provide the best care to people diagnosed with this disease. The following areas of research may include new options for patients through clinical trials. Always talk with your doctor about the best diagnostic and treatment options for you.

Because most types of kidney cancer do not respond well to traditional chemotherapy, medication research for kidney cancer focuses on using immunotherapy and targeted therapy (see Types of Treatment).

  • Targeted therapy. Several recently discovered drugs that affect the process of blood vessel development and/or cancer cell growth are being tested as targeted therapies for kidney cancer. The results from these clinical trials show that these types of drugs may be effective treatments for kidney cancer, and this is an area of rapid scientific change.

    Many targeted therapies and immunotherapies are being studied for use as adjuvant therapies, which are treatments given after the main treatment(s) to lower the risk of recurrence and to get rid of any remaining cancer cells. One targeted therapy, sunitinib, slowed the cancer from coming back in patients with localized kidney cancer at high risk for recurrence after having a nephrectomy. Other studies have not shown this effect, so using this type of targeted therapy as adjuvant treatment still needs to be studied.

  • Cancer vaccines. Cancer vaccines are treatments that help a person’s immune system fight cancer. Doctors are testing the use of several cancer vaccines to treat kidney cancer and to prevent recurrence for people with later-stage renal cell carcinoma. One vaccine being studied is made from a person's tumor and given after surgery, while others are made from proteins found on the surface of kidney cancer cells or blood vessel cells found in the tumor. There is currently no cancer vaccine that is approved for kidney cancer.

  • Modified cytokines. Interleukin (IL)-2 is a proven treatment for metastatic kidney cancer but has serious side effects (see "Immunotherapy" in Types of Treatment). There is a new treatment that chemically modifies IL-2 (bempegaldesleukin), and it is associated with less frequent serious side effects. Clinical trials continue to study this treatment for kidney cancer.

  • Immune checkpoint inhibitors. As explained in Types of Treatment, this type of immunotherapy works by taking the brakes off the immune system so it is better able to destroy the cancer. These drugs use antibodies directed at specific molecules found on the surface of immune cells, such as PD-1 and CTLA-4. These drugs appear to work in kidney cancer, and many clinical trials are currently ongoing.

  • Palliative and supportive care. Clinical trials are underway to find better ways of reducing symptoms and side effects of current kidney cancer treatments to improve comfort and quality of life for patients.

Looking for More About the Latest Research?

If you would like more information about the latest areas of research in kidney cancer, explore these related items that will take you outside of this guide:

The next section in this guide is Coping with Treatment. It offers some guidance on how to cope with the physical, emotional, social, and financial changes that cancer and its treatment can bring. Use the menu to choose a different section to read in this guide.