What’s new in kidney cancer research?
There is always research going on in the area of kidney cancer. Scientists are looking for causes of the disease and ways to prevent it. They are also trying to find new ways to treat it.
Scientists are studying several genes that may play a part in changing normal kidney cells into kidney cancer. Doctors are also trying to figure out which treatments are likely to work best for certain types of kidney cancer. This information can also be used to develop new treatments.
New approaches to local treatment
High-intensity focused ultrasound (HIFU) is a fairly new treatment that is now being studied for use in kidney cancer. It involves aiming very focused ultrasound beams from outside the body to destroy the tumor.
Ablation with cryotherapy or radiofrequency ablation is sometimes used to treat small kidney cancers. Research is now being done to learn how useful these techniques are in the long term.
Because chemo drugs do not work very well against advanced kidney cancer, targeted drugs are usually the first-line option to treat kidney cancers that can’t be removed by surgery. Clinical trials are now under way to try to find out whether combining these drugs, either with each other or with other types of treatment, might be better than using them alone. Some new targeted drugs are being tested as well.
Giving targeted therapy drugs before and after surgery is also being studied.
Kidney cancer is one the cancers most likely to respond to immunotherapy. Clinical trials of new immunotherapy methods are being tested. Basic research is now focused on getting a better understanding of the immune system, how to trigger it, and how it reacts to cancer.
Immune checkpoint inhibitors
Cancer cells use immune system checkpoints in the body to help avoid being found and destroyed by the immune system. For example, they often have a protein called PD-L1 on their surface that helps them evade the immune system. New drugs that block this PD-L1 protein, or the PD-1 protein on immune cells, can help the immune system recognize the cancer cells and attack them. Some of these drugs have shown a lot of promise against advanced kidney cancers, especially after other treatments have been tried.
Vaccines that boost the body’s immune response to kidney cancer cells are being tested in clinical trials. Unlike vaccines against infections like measles or mumps, these vaccines are designed to help treat, not prevent, kidney cancer. One possible advantage of these types of treatments is that they seem to have very limited side effects. At this time, these vaccines are only being used in clinical trials.
Bone marrow or blood stem cell transplant
In people with advanced kidney cancer, the person’s own immune system is not controlling the cancer. Another approach to immunotherapy is to try to use someone else’s immune system to attack the cancer cells giving a bone marrow or blood stem cell transplant.
Blood-forming stem cells are taken from the bone marrow or from the bloodstream of either the patient or a matched donor. The patient is then treated with powerful chemotherapy drugs to weaken their immune system. After treatment, the stem cells are given back to the patient as a blood transfusion. The transplanted stem cells return to the bone marrow and over time begin to make new immune cells.
Some early studies of this technique have been promising, finding that it may help shrink kidney cancers in some people. But it can also cause major side effects. This approach is under study, and more research is needed before it will be used outside of clinical trials.
Last Medical Review: 04/29/2014
Last Revised: 02/10/2016