Kidney Cancer (renal cell carcinoma)

Cancers that start in the kidney are usually of a type called renal cell carcinoma. Sometimes they can start in the lining of the tubes that carry urine to the bladder, and those cancers behave more like bladder cancer and are described on the Bladder cancer page.

There are various renal cell carcinomas. The most common is called ‘clear cell carcinoma’ because that is what they look like through a microscope. Approximately 85% of renal cell carcinomas are of this type. The remaining 15% is made up of a range of other carcinomas. This is important because treatment aimed at one type of renal cell carcinoma might not work for another type.

Renal cell carcinomas are often found localised in the kidney and usually during tests done for another ailment, like gallstones. Small renal cell cancers can be removed by an operation, but as they get larger the chances of removing all of the cancerous tissues through operation becomes smaller. Your surgeon will be able to advise you on this.

Renal cell carcinomas that have spread to other parts of the body are often not curable, but there are now effective treatments to shrink them, or stop them from growing – sometimes for long periods of time. These treatments have been developed based on our understanding of the way these cancers behave. For example, clear cell renal cell carcinomas often rely heavily on blood vessels growing into them. Treatments aimed at stopping that growth can be very effective in this type of cancer. A number of these treatments are now available in Australia and more are being developed.

Other treatments for renal cell carcinoma that has spread include radiation treatment (radiotherapy) and surgery. Of course, we also try to improve the symptoms and other problems the cancer might cause too, even if those treatments are not aimed directly at the cancer itself.

Even though there are treatments available we need to do better. This can only happen through understanding the science and by performing clinical trials to see which treatments are the ones most likely to help. ANZUP is involved in clinical trials in renal cell carcinoma through its clinical trials program. As always, you should talk to your doctor about what options might be best for you.

The FASTRACK II trial aims to test to ability of a relatively new technique, called Stereotactic Ablative Body Radiotherapy (SABR) to control the cancer within the kidney for those people where surgery is not an option.

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