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What’s New in Kidney Cancer Research?


Photo by Cancer Type

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 drugs and looking at the best way to combine drugs already in use. A major area of research lies in finding better ways to choose the best treatment for each per­son. That is, finding factors about a person’s cancer that make it more likely to respond to a certain medicine.

Genetics
Scientists are studying several genes that may play a part in changing normal kidney cells into renal cell carcinoma. 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
Very intense, focused ultrasound 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 under way to learn how useful these techniques are in the long term.

Targeted Therapies
Because chemo drugs do not work very well against advanced kidney cancer, targeted therapies are usually the first-line option to treat kidney cancers that cannot 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 therapies are being tested, too.

Giving these drugs before and after surgery is also being studied.

Immunotherapy
Kidney cancer is one of a handful of cancers that may 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.

Very intense, focused ultrasound 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.

Doctors are looking at the use of cytokines to boost immune system cells that have been removed from the blood. Early results have shown promise, but more studies are needed.

Vaccines
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
The amount of chemo that can be given is often lim­ited by the damage it does to the bone marrow, where blood cells are made. To get around this problem, a bone marrow or blood stem cell transplant might be done.

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 chemo drugs either in high doses, or with lower doses (called a “mini” stem cell transplant). 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 blood cells.

Stem cells from a donor also be­come immune to the patient’s tissues. This might help the patient to fight the cancer. This approach is under study, and more research is needed before it will be used outside of clinical trials.

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Reprinted by the permission of the American Cancer Society, Inc. from www.cancer.org. All rights reserved.

This article was published in Coping® with Cancer magazine, May/June 2011.