How We Treat Kidney Cancer

You can feel confident in the treatment at the Lank Center for Genitourinary Oncology at Dana-Farber Brigham Cancer Center, as our specialists focus exclusively on genitourinary cancers. If you need surgery, radiation therapy, or chemotherapy, you will see experts in each area who specifically treat kidney cancer. Our experts see over 200 kidney cancer patients each year, giving you an unmatched level of treatment expertise. Studies have shown that recovery and survival rates are higher for patients who are treated at a comprehensive medical center with a multidisciplinary team of experts, like those found at the Lank Center.

Multidisciplinary Approach

Our clinical and support teams are not just here to manage your cancer; they are here to care for you. We create a unique treatment plan for every patient, and we consider all aspects of your health when making our recommendations.

Our multidisciplinary team includes experienced urologists, surgical oncologists, medical oncologists, radiation oncologists, radiologists, pathologists, researchers, nurses, physician assistants, and social workers who treat, counsel, and care for each patient with dedication and compassion. You have the advantage of meeting with your entire medical team in a single visit. Your team will also meet regularly to review your health and treatment options and ensure you receive the best possible care.

Beginning with your first appointment, our nurses will walk you through the entire treatment process, making sure you know what to expect and where to find helpful resources, such as counseling, nutrition advice, or palliative care. In addition, each patient has a personal social worker to provide extra support and guidance.

Kidney Cancer Treatment by Stage

Depending on how much the cancer has spread, you may have one treatment or a combination of treatments. Treatment depends largely on the stage and spread of the disease, but your overall health and age are always considered before treatment. Most early-stage cancers can be treated successfully with surgery, but clinical trials and targeted therapies may be recommended at any stage of the disease.

  • With stage I kidney cancer, surgery is generally the only treatment necessary. Surgery at this stage may include the removal of a portion of the kidney or the entire kidney, plus surrounding tissues. After surgery, most patients will be monitored closely to make sure the cancer does not return. In some cases of newly diagnosed kidney cancer, a clinical trial or targeted therapy may be suggested.
  • If you are diagnosed with stage II kidney cancer, a portion of your kidney or the entire kidney may be removed, along with surrounding, affected tissues. Clinical trials, targeted therapies, or hormone therapy may be suggested at this stage, as well
  • Stage III kidney cancer will likely include clinical trials or targeted therapies. This stage may or may not require surgery to remove the entire kidney and surrounding affected tissues and organs. In rare cases, chemotherapy will be included in treatment for stage III kidney cancer
  • If you are diagnosed with stage IV kidney cancer, treatment will generally include clinical trials or targeted therapies. Surgery is rarely performed at stage IV. In some cases, radiation or chemotherapy treatments may be introduced to ease pain and symptoms, and improve quality of life.


Surgical approaches to the treatment of kidney cancer include:

  • Partial nephrectomy: Removes only the part of the kidney with the tumor.
  • Radical nephrectomy: Removes the whole kidney, sometimes the adrenal gland, tissue around the kidney, and surrounding lymph nodes.
    • Traditional open nephrectomy (partial or radical): Performed through a flank or abdominal incision.
    • Robot-assisted laparoscopic nephrectomy (partial or radical): Removes all or part of the kidney using telescopic instruments inserted in the abdomen through small incisions.
  • Tumor ablation: Destroys the tumor without surgically removing it. Ablative technologies include cryotherapy and radiofrequency ablation.

Medical Oncology

Medical oncologists are doctors who study cancer tumors and deliver chemotherapy (drugs that eliminate cancer cells or stop them from dividing). Medical oncologists at Dana-Farber Brigham Cancer Center offer the most effective therapies possible, while helping you maintain your quality of life during treatment.

Our specialists are constantly testing and studying new combinations of chemotherapy drugs to improve outcomes, decrease side effects, and slow tumor growth or recurrence. The experts at Dana-Farber Brigham Cancer Center will also work closely with you, should you require targeted therapies, immunotherapy, clinical trials, or more rarely, chemotherapy.

Targeted Therapies

Targeted therapy is a treatment that uses drugs or other substances to locate and attack specific cancer cells without harming healthy cells. The kidneys have a large number of blood vessels that may enable cancer cells to spread and multiply more than they would in other organs. However, the blood vessels of the kidneys respond well to anti-angiogenic drugs (drugs that target the blood vessels leading to the tumor but don't harm normal blood vessels). Targeted therapies are generally introduced in treatment for patients with later stages of kidney cancer.


Immunotherapy is a type of treatment that uses the patient's immune system to fight cancer cells. Substances made by the body, or in a lab, may be used to boost, drive, or restore a patient's immune system defenses against cancer. Immunotherapy is occasionally used for metastatic cases of kidney cancer, but side effects are often difficult to tolerate.


Chemotherapy is not the preferred method to treat kidney cancer. Chemotherapy for kidney cancer is generally reserved for rare cases when patients are not responding to hormone therapy, targeted therapy, or surgery.

When chemotherapy is indicated, it is provided at Dana-Farber's Yawkey Center for Cancer Care, one of the most advanced outpatient cancer centers in the country — designed for patients, by patients.

Radiation Oncology

Radiation therapy for kidney cancer is rarely recommended. Kidney tumors do not respond well to radiation, as healthy kidneys can be harmed in the process. In rare cases, radiation may be used to relieve pain and symptoms when the cancer has spread beyond the kidney to other organs in the body. In these cases, the disease is usually quite advanced, and patients are not good candidates for surgery. If radiation is recommended, our expert team of radiation oncologists will carefully choose the most appropriate, high-tech therapy for your cancer.

Clinical Trials Questions?


Clinical Trials

Dana-Farber Brigham Cancer Center offers one of the largest and most active clinical trial programs available, including clinical trials for patients with kidney cancer. We offer a wide range of clinical trials of new treatments for all stages of kidney cancer, including targeted therapies, immunotherapy and more. The clinical trials conducted at Dana-Farber Brigham Cancer Center have had a profound impact on the type of care administered worldwide.

For most kidney cancer patients, clinical trials are an important part of the treatment plan. Clinical trials may be suggested at any stage of the disease, but many are suggested for high-risk patients or those patients with an advanced stage of the disease. There are also clinical trials that test new ways to stop cancer from recurring or reduce the side effects of cancer treatment. If you qualify for a clinical trial, your doctor will carefully discuss all options and the best time to begin a trial (before, during, or after other treatment).

Clinical trials are part of the cancer research process; they are safe and regulated research studies to determine if new cancer treatments are effective, or better than a current plan. Not only can trials lead to new discoveries and improve cancer care, but they can have life-saving benefits. Clinical trials may include biologic therapies, or treatments that use the patient's immune system to fight the cancer (immunotherapy or biotherapy). Trials also include targeted therapy or therapies using drugs or to identify and attack the specific kidney cancer cells without harming healthy cells.

Find out more about clinical trials at Dana-Farber Brigham Cancer Center.

Detailed information about clinical trials is available from the NCI Web site.

For nationally run clinical trials, please visit

Questions to Ask Your Doctor about Clinical Trials

If your doctor suggests a clinical trial as part of your cancer treatment, you may have questions before you get started. Review some commonly asked questions about clinical trials and discuss them with your doctor.

Using research discoveries in patient treatment: Dr. Elizabeth Henske

Dr. Henske, a physician in Dana-Farber's Lank Center for Genitourinary Oncology, discusses her clinical and research work in the areas of kidney disease and cancer, and offers advice to new kidney cancer patients.

Second Opinions

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Consultations and Second Opinions

Our diagnostic team provides second opinions and we are happy to consult with you, your primary care physician, or other specialists. We are frequently asked for second opinions from oncologists all over the country. You may want to consider a second opinion:

  • To confirm your diagnosis
  • To have original biopsies or other tissue diagnosis confirmed
  • For details on the type and stage of cancer
  • To better understand your treatment options
  • To learn if you are eligible for clinical trials

Phone: 877-442-3324
Online: Complete the Appointment Request Form

Can't travel to Boston? Our Online Second Opinion service lets patients from all over the world receive expert second opinions from Dana-Farber oncologists.

For Referring Physicians

Because the patient's primary care physician or community specialist is an integral part of the patient's care team, we are committed to collaborating in the care of your patient.

If you are a physician and have a patient with kidney cancer, we look forward to working with you.

Find out more about how to refer a patient to Dana-Farber Brigham Cancer Center.

Find out about Physician Gateway, our portal that helps you keep track of patients you have referred for care. Physician Gateway is available for primary care providers, referring providers, and your authorized office staff.