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Illustration of the adult kidney

Kidney Cancer

Kidney cancer has historically been one of the most difficult cancers to treat, especially for patients whose cancer has spread to other parts of the body. But advances in immunology and a growing number of molecularly targeted treatments are offering more options for patients with the disease and improving survival.

Until the 1980s, doctors had an extremely limited toolkit to treat kidney cancer. For patients whose cancer had not spread beyond the kidneys, complete surgical removal of the kidney was often, but not always, effective. For those with more advanced disease, however, the available chemotherapy and radiation treatments had little effect and survival was usually limited to a few months.

Since then, several advances have helped patients live longer, higher-quality lives:

  • Greatly refined surgical techniques can preserve patients' kidney function and speed their post-surgery recovery.
  • The advent of immunotherapy in the early 1990s enabled doctors to extend the lives of some patients whose cancer had spread.
  • Several new drugs that target vulnerable pathways within a cancer cell have been shown to shrink tumors and slow the progression of kidney cancer.

Survival rates for kidney cancer have improved steadily since the early 1980s. While they remain lower than other cancers, a wide range of research is underway to expand treatment options and improve the lives of patients with the disease.

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