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Kidney Cancer Treatment

Penn Medicine's Abramson Cancer Center and the Joan Karnell Cancer Center at Pennsylvania Hospital have comprehensive cancer programs that provide men and women with kidney cancer more treatment options.

Our kidney cancer specialists at the Abramson Cancer Center are part of a multidisciplinary team of experts that include surgeons, medical and radiation oncologists, interventional radiologists, pathologists, advanced practice providers and support specialists such as social workers and psychologists. We work together — under one roof — to create treatment plans specific to your unique needs and diagnosis.

Treatment options for kidney cancer include:

Chemotherapy and Biologic Therapies for Kidney Cancer

We offer the latest advances in chemotherapy and biologic therapies for treating kidney cancer.

Medical oncologists are physicians who specialize in the diagnosis and treatment of cancer. Penn oncologists work closely with radiation and surgical oncologists to treat kidney cancer patients with medical therapies. These therapies include:


Our medical oncologists and hematologists are pioneers in using a patients' own immune systems to fight cancer. Immunotherapy is designed to repair, stimulate, or enhance the immune system's responses. The body's immune system helps to prevent disease, but it can also play a role in preventing cancer from developing or spreading. The goal of immunotherapy is to enhance the body's natural defenses and its ability to fight cancer.

Immunotherapy often has fewer side effects than conventional cancer treatments because it uses the body's own immune system to:

  • Target specific cancer cells, thereby potentially avoiding damage to normal cells
  • Make cancer cells easier for the immune system to recognize and destroy
  • Prevent or slow tumor growth and spread of cancer cells

Targeted Therapy

Targeted molecular therapy is a type of personalized medical therapy designed to treat cancer by interrupting unique molecular abnormalities that drive cancer growth. Targeted therapies are drugs that are designed to interfere with a specific biochemical pathway that is central to the development, growth and spread of that particular cancer.

Because not every cancer develops in the same way in every person, targeted molecular therapy is personalized to the individual. In some cancers the molecular targets are known. But in other cancers these targets are still being identified. Sometimes the same types of cancer have different molecular targets. Identifying the molecular targets in any given patient's cancer requires working closely with pathologists to carefully analyze the cancer pathology.

Targeted cancer therapies such as targeted molecular therapy gives medical oncologists a better way to customize cancer treatment.


Our medical oncologists are experts in the use of chemotherapy to treat cancer. We specialize in bringing a multidisciplinary approach to cancer treatment while applying innovative approaches, including the use of chemotherapy to treat tumors prior to and after surgery. Chemotherapy may also be used to enhance the effectiveness of radiation therapy.

Chemotherapy uses drugs to attack cancer cells, slowing or stopping their ability to grow and multiply. Chemotherapy is usually given:

  • Orally: taking pills or capsules by mouth
  • Intravenously (IV): injecting medication into a vein
  • Intramuscularly (IM): injecting medication into a muscle
  • Subcutaneously: injecting medication under the skin

Chemotherapy is not a "one-size-fits-all" cancer treatment. The wide range of cancer-fighting drugs attack different types of cancer cells at varying stages of cell development. Our medical oncologists are known for their expertise in determining which drug or combination of drugs will be the most effective in treating the various types of cancer.

Clinical Trials for Kidney Cancer

Today, more and more people are surviving cancer. Clinical trials benefit patients with access to breakthrough therapies and treatments. These new advances in cancer treatment are occurring every day at Penn Medicine, giving patients hope that even greater discoveries lie ahead.

Through clinical trials:

  • Diagnosing cancer has become more precise.
  • Radiation and surgical techniques have advanced.
  • Medications are more successful.
  • Combinations of medical, surgical and radiation therapy are improving treatment effectiveness and enhancing outcomes.
  • Strategies to address the late effects of cancer and its treatment are improving quality of life.

We offer patients more clinical trials for kidney cancer than any other hospital in the Philadelphia region. Our researchers and clinicians are at the forefront of kidney cancer research, developing and leading clinical trial studies.

Radiation Therapy for Kidney Cancer

Radiation therapy uses high-energy X-rays to kill cancer cells. Radiation may be considered for patients whose tumors are too large to be completely removed. Once the surgeons have removed as much of the tumor as possible, radiation may be useful in treating any tumor that remains.

We use the latest equipment and technology available to treat kidney cancer. Our radiation oncologists are recognized leaders in techniques that target radiation precisely to the treatment area while sparing normal tissue.

Our patients with kidney cancer have access to new and advanced treatment options and ongoing clinical trials in radiation therapy including proton therapy. As part of our commitment to advancing cancer care in patients, radiation oncologists are also researching how radiation treatment affects the quality of life for cancer patients.

Radiation therapy for kidney cancer includes:

Image-Guided Radiation Therapy (IGRT)

Image-guided radiation therapy (IGRT) uses frequent imaging during a course of radiation therapy to improve the precision and accuracy of the delivery the radiation treatment.

In IGRT, the linear accelerators (machines that deliver radiation) are equipped with imaging technology that take pictures of the tumor immediately before and during the time radiation is delivered. Specialized computer software compares these images of the tumor to the images taken during the simulation to establish the treatment plan. Necessary adjustments can then be made to the patient's position and/or the radiation beams to more precisely target radiation at the cancer and avoid exposure to the healthy surrounding tissue.

Intensity-Modulated Radiation Therapy (IMRT)

Our radiation oncologists use intensity-modulated radiation therapy (IMRT) to treat kidney cancer. This advanced mode of high-precision radiotherapy utilizes computer-controlled linear accelerators to deliver precise radiation doses to tumors or specific areas within the tumors.

Radiation therapy, including IMRT, stops cancer cells from dividing and growing, thus slowing or stopping tumor growth. In many cases, radiation therapy is capable of killing all of the cancer cells.

Using 3-D computed tomography (CT) images in conjunction with computerized dose calculations, IMRT allows for the radiation dose to conform more precisely to the three-dimensional shape of the tumor by controlling, or modulating the intensity of the radiation beam in multiple small volumes. The therapy allows higher radiation doses to be focused on regions within the tumor while minimizing the dose to surrounding normal critical structures.


CyberKnife is a non-invasive alternative to surgery for the treatment of both cancerous and non-cancerous tumors anywhere in the body, including the kidney. The treatment delivers beams of high-dose radiation to tumors with extreme accuracy.

Cyberknife therapy is pain free, non-invasive and can be done as an outpatient procedure. Cyberknife can treat hard to reach tumors, and requires no anesthesia during treatment. Penn's Cyberknife is located at Pennsylvania Hospital.

Proton Therapy

Penn Medicine's Roberts Proton Therapy Center is the largest and most advanced facility in the world for this precise form of cancer radiation. At Penn, our patients have access to one of the most sophisticated weapons against cancer, seamlessly integrated with the full range of oncology services available at the Abramson Cancer Center.

Proton therapy is external beam radiotherapy in which protons are directed at a tumor. The radiation dose that is given through protons is very precise, and limits the exposure of normal tissues. This allows the radiation dose delivered to the tumor to be increased beyond conventional radiation. The result is a better chance for curing cancer with fewer harmful side effects.

Surgery for Kidney Cancer

Surgical resection, or removal, of the kidney is the only known curative treatment for kidney cancer. This surgery is called a nephrectomy.

Our surgeons are experts at kidney (nephron)-sparing surgery, and make every attempt to treat patients without completely removing the kidney.


A nephrectomy involves the removal of the entire kidney that is affected by cancer cells as well as some of the lymph nodes surrounding the kidney. A nephrectomy may be performed traditionally, with one incision, or laparoscopically through several small incisions. If the kidney cancer has spread to just one other area of the body, a nephrectomy may be recommended. If there are many areas where the disease has spread, however, nephrectomy has not been shown to be useful.

Partial Nephrectomy

A partial nephrectomy, or partial resection, may be performed for patients with small kidney tumors. At Penn, partial kidney resections are performed via robotic-assisted surgery.

In robotic-assisted surgery, the surgeon sits at a computer console to control the robotic arms. These robotic arms allow the surgeon better dexterity in smaller spaces so it is easier to remove part of the kidney while minimizing the amount of time the renal artery is clamped during surgery.

While these technological advantages are significant, a surgeon's skill and experience remain the most important elements for achieving good outcomes. We have one of the most experienced robotic-assisted surgery teams in the world. This experience combined with an understanding of the body, kidney cancer, and dexterity of the robot's tools, help us rank among the nation's best for kidney cancer care.

Other Treatments for Kidney Cancer

In addition to standard treatments and clinical trials, you may wish to add additional therapies and treatments such as massage therapy, acupuncture and art therapy. These therapies do not have curative intent, and are designed to complement standard treatments, not take their place.

Integrative Oncology Services

At Penn Medicine, our integrative oncology services can supplement traditional cancer treatments such as chemotherapy, surgery and radiation therapy. While conventional medicine plays a critical role in eradicating cancer, integrative medicine and wellness programs offer you and your family ways to enhance the quality of your lives, minimize or reduce the side effects of cancer and cancer treatment, and promote healing and recovery.

Our cancer specialists are knowledgeable and supportive of complementary cancer treatments. The cancer team works with you to integrate these supportive programs into the overall care plan, while ensuring the safety and health of patients.

The Abramson Cancer Center's range of integrative supportive services is designed to help you cope with the cancer experience and improve your overall sense of well-being.

Services include:

The Joan Karnell Cancer Center at Pennsylvania Hospital offers an extensive variety of supportive care programs for patients and families, from diagnosis through survivorship. These programs are available at no cost to the patients treated at Pennsylvania Hospital, and some are open to patients treated elsewhere. These services include social work counseling, nutrition counseling, psychological counseling and spiritual counseling.

The Cancer Appetite and Rehabilitation Clinic focuses on patients with loss of appetite and weight.

The Supportive Oncology Clinic helps to manage cancer-related symptoms. Integrative support programs include:

Support groups and educational programs are available at Pennsylvania Hospital throughout the year.

Palliative Care

Palliative care provides medical and non-medical interventions to ease the symptoms of cancer and its treatment. Palliative care includes physical, emotional and spiritual care that can enhance the quality of life for cancer patients.

Palliative care can be used to complement traditional cancer therapies, or can be used when curative therapies are no longer an option to treat symptoms and improve quality of life.

Palliative care is an approach to patient care that can be integrated with curative therapies at any point from diagnosis to survivorship or end-of-life care. Palliative care services include palliative chemotherapy, radiation therapy and surgery as well as psychological counseling, art therapy and support groups for patients and families.

Penn Home Care and Hospice Services

Penn Medicine offers a full range of “at home” health care services, including specialized therapies and medications, for patients with cancer and cancer-related conditions.