Renal Cell Carcinoma Treatment

kidneys - renal cell cancer

A pair of fist-sized organs located in the abdomen, the kidneys are responsible for the production of urine that removes waste from the blood and other substances that control blood pressure. This year it is estimated that about 58,000 new cases of kidney cancer will be diagnosed in the United States 1, with the most common type being renal cell carcinoma, a subtype that forms in the tubes of the kidneys that work to filter blood and remove waste. Overall, renal cell carcinoma represents about 90 percent of all kidney cancers 2.

There are several subtypes of renal cell carcinoma:

Clear Cell Renal Cell Carcinoma
Like its name, the cancerous cells of this subtype, appear clear or pale when examined under a microscope. It is the most common subtype affecting approximately seven out of 10 people diagnosed with renal cell carcinoma 2.
Papillary Renal Cell Carcinoma
This subtype is the second most common form of renal cell carcinoma where the cancerous cells appear to have finger-like tentacles called papillae 2.
Chromophobe Renal Cell Carcinoma
Accounting for about five percent of all renal cell carcinomas 2, the cancerous cells of the chromophobe-subtype appear pale under a microscope but are much larger than clear cell renal cell carcinomas.
Collecting Duct Renal Cell Carcinoma
This is a very rare subtype that occurs when the cancerous cells form irregular tubes.
Unclassified Renal Cell Carcinoma
In some rare cases, the renal cell carcinoma cannot be classified among the above subtypes because the look of the cells does not fit into one of the common categories, or there is more than one subtype of renal cell carcinoma present.

Treatment options for renal cell carcinoma largely depend on the subtype as well as the stage of cancer at diagnosis, but typically can include one or more of the following:

Most renal cell carcinomas are treated with one of two types of surgery. In a radial nephrectomy, which can be done as full surgery or as a laparoscopic procedure, the entire kidney along with the adrenal gland is removed. A partial nephrectomy occurs when only the portion of the kidney that is affected by the cancer is removed. In any of these surgeries, surrounding lymph nodes also may be removed to check to see if the cancer has spread beyond the kidney.
Radiation Therapy and Chemotherapy
These types of therapy are not usually given for the treatment of renal cell carcinoma because research shows that this type of cancer does not respond well to either therapy. However, radiation therapy may be given to people who are not candidates for surgery, or used to help alleviate pain when the cancer has spread beyond the kidneys.
Targeted Therapy
These types of therapies are designed to attack or interfere with specific genes or cells that have been shown to help with the growth of certain cancers. Drugs such as Afinitor, Sutent, Torisel, and Votrient are treatments used for advanced renal cell carcinoma, meaning the cancer has spread beyond the kidney and likely hasn’t responded to other traditional treatments.
This is a type of treatment that uses the body’s own immune system to attack the cancerous cells. Prior to the development of targeted therapies, immunotherapy was the most common treatment for advanced renal cell carcinoma, but because of the harsh side effects, it is usually given if targeted therapies do not stop the progression of the cancer.


  1. American Cancer Society. Kidney Cancer (Adult): Renal Cell Carcinoma Key Statistics. Accessed on September 15, 2010.
  2. American Cancer Society. Kidney Cancer (Adult): Renal Cell Carcinoma Detailed Guide. Accessed on September 15, 2010.


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