Kidney cancer

Kidney cancer overview

You are at the center of everything we do at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center. Here, we surround you with a team of specialists who work together closely to provide expertly targeted, complete care and compassionate support throughout your treatment and beyond.

We guide you every step of the way, combining our deep clinical expertise in renal cell carcinoma and other kidney cancers with a commitment to meet your unique needs.

Following the merger of long-time partners, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and Seattle Cancer Care Alliance, the organization was renamed to Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center. We are an independent, nonprofit organization that also serves as UW Medicine's cancer program. 

Why choose Fred Hutch?

  • Comprehensive kidney cancer treatment
    Our doctors are experts in the full spectrum of complex treatments kidney cancer may require, including robot-assisted surgery, targeted therapy, immunotherapy, chemotherapy and radiation therapy. The Kidney Cancer Multispecialty Clinic brings a complete team together to evaluate you in a single day if you have metastatic disease.
  • Kidney cancer clinical trials
    To give you access to the most innovative therapies, we unite the leading researchers and cancer specialists of Fred Hutch and UW Medicine so you can take part in kidney cancer clinical studies not available everywhere. 
  • Advanced diagnosis and treatment planning
    We have a new test called OncoScan CGAT to identify genetic changes in people with kidney cancer that help diagnose the disease, understand the risk of recurrence and outlook for survival and guide therapy decisions.
  • A national leader in cancer care
    Fred Hutch is the leading cancer treatment center in the region and among the top nationally, according to U.S. News & World Report. 
  • NCI comprehensive cancer center
    We are a comprehensive cancer center, a designation from the National Cancer Institute that reflects our scientific leadership and the depth and breadth of our research to prevent, diagnose and treat cancer.
Chemotherapy Treatment that uses drugs to stop the growth of cancer cells, either by killing the cells or by stopping them from dividing. It may be given alone or with other treatments. Treatment that uses drugs to stop the growth of cancer cells, either by killing the cells or by stopping them from dividing. Chemotherapy may be given by mouth, injection, infusion or on the skin, depending on the type and stage of the cancer being treated. It may be given alone or with other treatments, such as surgery, radiation therapy or biologic therapy. Clinical trial A type of research study that tests how well new medical approaches work in people. These studies test new methods of screening, prevention, diagnosis or treatment of a disease. Immunotherapy A type of therapy that uses substances to stimulate or suppress the immune system to help the body fight cancer, infection and other diseases. A therapy that uses substances to stimulate or suppress the immune system to help the body fight cancer, infection and other diseases. Some immunotherapies only target certain cells of the immune system. Others affect the immune system in a general way. Types of immunotherapy include cytokines, vaccines, bacillus Calmette-Guerin (BCG) and some monoclonal antibodies. Metastatic A metastatic cancer is a cancer that has spread to other areas of the body by way of the lymph system or bloodstream. Radiation therapy The use of high-energy radiation from X-rays, gamma rays, neutrons, protons and other sources to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors. The use of high-energy radiation from x-rays, gamma rays, neutrons, protons and other sources to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors. Radiation may come from a machine outside the body (external-beam radiation therapy), or it may come from radioactive material placed in the body near cancer cells (internal radiation therapy or brachytherapy). Systemic radiation therapy uses a radioactive substance, such as a radiolabeled monoclonal antibody, that travels in the blood to tissues throughout the body. Recurrence Cancer that has come back, usually after a period during which it could not be detected. It may come back to the same place as the original (primary) tumor or someplace else. Also called recurrent cancer. Targeted therapy A type of treatment that uses drugs or other substances to identify and attack specific types of cancer cells while causing less harm to normal cells. A type of treatment that uses drugs or other substances to identify and attack specific types of cancer cells while causing less harm to normal cells. Some targeted therapies block the action of certain enzymes, proteins or other molecules involved in the growth and spread of cancer cells. Other types of targeted therapies help the immune system kill cancer cells, or they deliver toxic substances directly to cancer cells and kill them. Targeted therapy may have fewer side effects than other types of cancer treatment. Most targeted therapies are either small molecule drugs or monoclonal antibodies.
Second opinions

If you’ve been diagnosed with kidney cancer or a new kidney tumor, we recommend considering a second opinion before selecting a course of treatment. Getting a second opinion is a valuable way to verify facts about your condition that are important to your treatment decisions, such as:

  • How likely the tumor is to be cancerous
  • The clinical stage of the cancer (your doctor’s best estimate of the extent of your disease, based on the results of your exam, lab tests and imaging studies)
  • Whether you can have surgery that spares as much normal kidney as possible

A second opinion may give you access to new treatments, new surgical techniques or therapies available only in clinical trials.

Imaging In medicine, a process that makes pictures of areas inside the body. Imaging uses methods such as X-rays (high-energy radiation), ultrasound (high-energy sound waves) and radio waves. Stage The extent of a cancer in the body. Staging is usually based on the size of the tumor, whether lymph nodes contain cancer and whether the cancer has spread from the original site to other parts of the body.
For access to the widest array of treatment options, it’s best to get a second opinion sooner rather than later. Medical oncologist Scott S. Tykodi, MD, PhD, explains why.

How a second opinion can help

If you have received a kidney cancer diagnosis, or you have been told that you have a kidney tumor, kidney mass, renal tumor, renal mass or complex renal cyst, a second opinion makes sense for the following reasons:

Some tumors are small and have a good chance of being benign (not cancerous).

A treatment option that we consider more often these days is known as active surveillance, where these small kidney tumors are observed. We usually prescribe repeated imaging studies to check for any growth of the tumors.

Decision-making for kidney cancer that has spread can be complex.

Patients are often trying to decide between having surgery to remove the kidney with the main tumor or immediately starting medications to treat cancer cells throughout the body. Many patients with metastatic kidney cancer are candidates for clinical trials. A second opinion would help you gather more information to help make this complex decision.

Small tumors can usually be treated by partial nephrectomy.

This means removing the tumor and sparing the normal kidney tissue around the tumor. There are studies that suggest that not enough patients with small kidney tumors get this important surgery.

State-of-the-art options are available for kidney tumors.

Some of these options include clinical trials of new medications for metastatic kidney cancer or kidney cancer at high risk of metastasizing, robotic surgery to speed your recovery and newer therapies to freeze small tumors. We are a referral center for interleukin-2, or IL-2, (Proleukin) treatment, not available everywhere.

Changing treatment regimens is not always easy or possible.

Once you start a course of treatment, it’s sometimes hard to change to something else.

Request a second opinion

Find a urologic oncologist you trust and a course of treatment you are comfortable with. If you weren’t diagnosed at Fred Hutch, consider requesting an appointment with one of our many kidney cancer specialists, who are all University of Washington faculty members. 

If you received your diagnosis at Fred Hutch, don’t be afraid to ask your doctor about getting a second opinion. They’ll be more than happy to provide you with a list of recommended doctors.

Imaging In medicine, a process that makes pictures of areas inside the body. Imaging uses methods such as X-rays (high-energy radiation), ultrasound (high-energy sound waves) and radio waves. Metastatic A metastatic cancer is a cancer that has spread to other areas of the body by way of the lymph system or bloodstream. Oncologist A physician who has special training in diagnosing and treating cancer. Some oncologists specialize in a particular type of cancer treatment, such as treating cancer with radiation. A physician who has special training in diagnosing and treating cancer. Some oncologists specialize in a particular type of cancer treatment. For example, a radiation oncologist specializes in treating cancer with radiation. Surveillance Closely watching a patient’s condition but not treating it unless there are changes in test results. Surveillance is also used to find early signs that a disease has come back. In medicine, surveillance means closely watching a patient’s condition but not treating it unless there are changes in test results. Surveillance is also used to find early signs that a disease has come back. It may also be used for a person who has an increased risk of a disease, such as cancer. During surveillance, certain exams and tests are done on a regular schedule. In public health, surveillance may also refer to the ongoing collection of information about a disease, such as cancer, in a certain group of people. The information collected may include where the disease occurs in a population and whether it affects people of a certain gender, age or ethnic group.
After careful review of all the details about your disease, our experienced specialists may alter your diagnosis and offer a different treatment plan.
Second opinions

If you’ve been diagnosed with kidney cancer or a new kidney tumor, we recommend considering a second opinion before selecting a course of treatment. Getting a second opinion is a valuable way to verify facts about your condition that are important to your treatment decisions.

Fred Hutch's Dr. Scott Tykodi talks about the different types of treatment for kidney cancer.

Facts

About 90 percent of kidney cancers are a type called renal cell carcinoma, which usually forms a single tumor in one of the person’s two kidneys. Fred Hutch offers comprehensive treatment from a team of experts who specialize in all types kidney cancer.

Treatment

People with kidney cancer have more treatment options than ever before. Although the most common treatment is still surgery for localized kidney cancer, many new immunotherapies and targeted therapies have been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in recent years to treat metastatic kidney cancer.

Immunotherapy A type of therapy that uses substances to stimulate or suppress the immune system to help the body fight cancer, infection and other diseases. A therapy that uses substances to stimulate or suppress the immune system to help the body fight cancer, infection and other diseases. Some immunotherapies only target certain cells of the immune system. Others affect the immune system in a general way. Types of immunotherapy include cytokines, vaccines, bacillus Calmette-Guerin (BCG) and some monoclonal antibodies. Metastatic A metastatic cancer is a cancer that has spread to other areas of the body by way of the lymph system or bloodstream. Targeted therapy A type of treatment that uses drugs or other substances to identify and attack specific types of cancer cells while causing less harm to normal cells. A type of treatment that uses drugs or other substances to identify and attack specific types of cancer cells while causing less harm to normal cells. Some targeted therapies block the action of certain enzymes, proteins or other molecules involved in the growth and spread of cancer cells. Other types of targeted therapies help the immune system kill cancer cells, or they deliver toxic substances directly to cancer cells and kill them. Targeted therapy may have fewer side effects than other types of cancer treatment. Most targeted therapies are either small molecule drugs or monoclonal antibodies.

Providers

At Fred Hutch, you receive care from a team of providers with extensive experience in your disease. Your team includes physicians, a patient care coordinator, a registered nurse, an advanced practice provider and others, based on your needs. You also have access to experts like nutritionists, social workers, acupuncturists, psychiatrists and more who specialize in supporting people with cancer or blood disorders.

Clinical trials

To give you access to the most innovative therapies, we unite the leading researchers and cancer specialists of Fred Hutch and UW Medicine so you can take part in kidney cancer clinical studies not available everywhere.

Clinical trial A type of research study that tests how well new medical approaches work in people. These studies test new methods of screening, prevention, diagnosis or treatment of a disease.

Resources

There are many resources online for learning about your disease, as well as organizations that provide community and support for your cancer diagnosis. Health educators at the Fred Hutch Patient and Family Resource Center have compiled a list of trusted sources to help you get started.