There are promising therapies coming to help battle kidney cancer. Surgery is the primary treatment for kidney cancer, but we look for drug therapies as an alternative or to use alongside surgery. At Cleveland Clinic, our multidisciplinary kidney cancer team is driving improvements in drug therapy options by:
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1. Learning how to give approved drugs more effectively and/or with fewer side effects;
2. Testing new drugs to complement the recent advances we’ve made;
3. Working with our laboratory-based researchers to discover new drugs and new approaches to kidney cancer.
Symptoms of kidney cancer
Kidney cancer, which most often affects men from 50 to 70, rarely produces symptoms in its early stage. Most of these early-stage kidney tumors are “incidental,” by which I mean they’re found on CT and MRI scans while looking for something else. Fortunately, these are usually small and very treatable.
As tumors grow, the following symptoms can result: blood in the urine, abdominal pain, fatigue, loss of appetite, high blood pressure and anemia. These are signs the tumor has already spread and you need to see a doctor right away to begin treatment.
As I said, surgery is the primary treatment for kidney cancer, where we’re able to remove tumors through a variety of techniques, including some exciting robotic and laparoscopic methods that are minimally invasive.
If the cancer hasn’t spread too much within the body, we integrate surgery with a targeted drug therapy. We use a new class of drugs that block specific receptors on blood vessel cells that promote tumors’ growth. They inhibit the formation of new blood vessels, so they literally starve growing tumors.
This new generation of drugs is taken by mouth in pill form, and is much less toxic than earlier treatments. Around 70 percent of patients with advanced kidney cancer who take these drugs will have their tumors shrink. The average time tumors remain small is about one year, but we have several patients with controlled tumors for many years.
Advances in drug therapy
Sadly, not all patients respond to drug treatment and their tumors will grow despite therapy. But clinical trials offer us a way to develop more effective kidney cancer-fighting drugs. Over the years, we’ve been responsible for developing several new drugs for kidney cancer.
Most recently, I led a clinical trial of the drug axitinib, which potentially inhibits a blood-vessel forming protein called vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF). In January 2012 the FDA approved axitinib for use in patients with advanced cancer renal cell carcinoma, a type of kidney cancer. This drug is another great line of defense against the progression of the disease. It’s a fantastic addition to our arsenal.
This is why we come to work every day — to lead the largest kidney cancer program in the world dedicated to finding new and better treatments for this disease.