Targeted therapies for kidney cancer

Targeted therapies are the main treatment for advanced kidney cancer. They affect the way cancer cells grow.

About targeted therapies for kidney cancer

Targeted therapy drugs are the main treatment for 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.

There are several clinical trials looking at the most effective ways of using targeted therapies to treat kidney cancer.

Most targeted therapies for kidney cancer are taken as tablets. Others are given into a vein (intravenously). You usually have the treatment as an outpatient.

You will usually continue with a targeted therapy drug for as long as it is keeping the tumour under control. You will have regular CT scans to check this. Some people may need to stop treatment or have a short break if they have very difficult side effects.

There are lots of different targeted therapy drugs. Not all of them are right for everyone. Your cancer doctor or specialist nurse will talk to you about the best drugs for your situation.

Cancer growth inhibitors

For most people, the first targeted therapy drug given is usually a cancer growth inhibitor. Cancer growth inhibitors are also called TKIs (tyrosine kinase inhibitors). 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. They can 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.

The main cancer growth inhibitor drugs are taken as tablets and are: 

  • Sunitinib (Sutent®)

    Sunitinib is usually taken once a day for 4 weeks. This is followed by a 2 week rest period when you do not take the drug. Sometimes sunitinib is taken daily for 2 weeks followed by a 1 week rest period. You usually continue taking sunitinib for as long as it is working.

  • Pazopanib (Votrient®)

    Pazopanib is usually taken once a day and is also given for as long as it is working.

  • Tivozanib (Fotivda®)

    Tivozanib is usually taken once a day for 3 weeks, followed by a 1-week rest period. The 4-week cycle of treatment is repeated for as long as it is working.

Other targeted therapy drugs

Other targeted therapy drugs that may be used to treat advanced kidney cancer include:

  • axitinib (Inlyta®) – given as a tablet
  • cabozantinib (Cabometyx ®) – given as a tablet
  • everolimus (Afinitor®) – given as a tablet
  • sorafenib (Nexavar®) – given as a tablet
  • temsirolimus (Torisel®) – given into a vein (intravenously) as an infusion
  • lenvatinib (Kisplyx ®) – given as a capsule in combination with everolimus
  • bevacizumab (Avastin®) – given into a vein as an infusion in combination with a drug called interferon alpha, which helps your immune system fight the cancer.

Your cancer doctor or specialist nurse will tell you if they think any of these drugs are suitable for you.

All the targeted therapy drugs listed here are licensed to treat kidney cancer and can be used in the UK. But not all of them are widely available through the NHS. Some people have targeted therapy as part of a clinical trial.

If a drug is not available on the NHS, there may be different ways you are still able to have it, if it is appropriate for you. Your doctor can give you advice. They may be able to apply for funding to get it.

Side effects of targeted therapies 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 control and manage side effects.

Targeted therapies can interact with some medicines and foods. Before you start treatment, tell your GP and cancer doctor about your treatment and any medicines you are taking. They can let you know if there are any foods you should avoid.

Let your cancer doctor and specialist nurse know if you are having problems. They can give you help and advice.

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