About targeted therapy for kidney cancer

Targeted therapy drugs affect the way that cancer cells grow.

Targeted therapy drugs are used to treat kidney cancer that has spread to other parts of the body (advanced or metastatic kidney cancer). The aim of treatment is to control the cancer for as long as possible.

Your cancer doctor or specialist nurse will tell you if they think targeted therapy drugs are suitable for you.

Tyrosine kinase inhibitors (TKIs) for kidney cancer

Tyrosine kinase inhibitors (TKIs) are a type of targeted therapy used to treat kidney cancer. Kinases are proteins in the body. They regulate how cells grow and divide. TKIs block the proteins from sending signals within the cancer cells. This causes the cells to die.

Some drugs also stop the cancer cells from developing new blood vessels. This reduces their supply of oxygen and nutrients, so the tumour shrinks or stops growing.

These are the TKIs used to treat renal cell cancer (RCC), which is the most common type of kidney cancer:

Taking tyrosine kinase inhibitors (TKIs) for kidney cancer

You take these treatments as tablets or capsules. You will usually continue taking a targeted therapy drug for as long as it is keeping the tumour under control. You will have regular CT scans to check this.

It is important to tell your doctor or nurse about any side effects (see below), as these can usually be managed. You may need to stop treatment or have a short break if you have very difficult side effects.

All the targeted therapy drugs listed here are licensed to treat kidney cancer and can be used in the UK. These targeted therapy drugs all work in a similar way. So, if you have had a TKI before, some of the others might not be suitable for you. Most people have one or two as part of their treatment over time.

You may have TKIs on their own or with immunotherapy. You may have targeted therapy as part of a clinical trial.

Side effects of targeted therapy for kidney cancer

Each type of targeted therapy drug has its own side effects. The most common side effects include:

Your cancer doctor or specialist nurse will give you information about the likely side effects of your treatment. They will also tell you what can be done to help control and manage them.

Wounds may take longer to heal when you are having treatment with targeted therapy drugs. You may need to stop treatment before having an operation or dental treatment. Your doctor will talk to you about this.

Targeted therapy drugs can react with some medicines and foods. Before you start treatment, tell your cancer doctor about any medicines you are taking. You should also tell your GP that you are having targeted therapy treatment. Your doctors can tell you whether there are any foods you should avoid.

We have information about individual targeted therapy drugs, how they are given and their side effects.

About our information

  • References

    Below is a sample of the sources used in our kidney cancer information. If you would like more information about the sources we use, please contact us at cancerinformationteam@macmillan.org.uk

    Escudier B, et al. Renal cell carcinoma: ESMO Clinical Practice Guidelines for diagnosis, treatment and follow-up. Annals of Oncology 30: 706-720, 2019. doi:10.1093/annonc/mdz056 Published online 21 February 2019. Available from www.annalsofoncology.org/action/showPdf?pii=S0923-7534%2819%2931157-3 (accessed April 2021).

    European Association of Urology. Renal cell carcinoma guidelines. EAU Guidelines. Edn. presented at the EAU Annual Congress Milan 2021. ISBN 978-94-92671-13-4. Available from www.uroweb.org/guideline/renal-cell-carcinoma (accessed April 2021).

    National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE): Nivolumab with ipilimumab for untreated advanced renal cell carcinoma. Technology appraisal guidance (TA581). Published 15 May 2019. Available from www.nice.org.uk/guidance/ta581 (accessed April 2021).

  • Reviewers

    This information has been written, revised and edited by Macmillan Cancer Support’s Cancer Information Development team. It has been reviewed by expert medical and health professionals and people living with cancer. It has been approved by Senior Medical Editor, Dr Lisa Pickering, Consultant Medical Oncologist.

    Our cancer information has been awarded the PIF TICK. Created by the Patient Information Forum, this quality mark shows we meet PIF’s 10 criteria for trustworthy health information.