Renal/Kidney Cancer

For people with renal/kidney cancer — as well as cancers of the prostate, bladder and testicles — the Swedish Cancer Institute offers the services of a renowned team of physicians, surgeons and other specialists. (“Renal” means pertaining to the kidney.)

All Swedish kidney-cancer patients benefit from a comprehensive approach to care that begins with state-of-the-art imaging techniques and features the latest treatments and a wide range of high-quality support services.


Kidney cancer, which accounts for about 3 percent of all cancers, occurs slightly more often in males and is usually diagnosed between the ages of 50 and 70, but can occur at any age. In adults, the most common type is renal cell cancer. While there are several types of renal cell cancer in adults, urothelial cell cancer of kidney is different from renal cell cancer, therefore treated in the same way as urothelial cell cancer of bladder. 


Many kidney tumors go undetected due to the lack of symptoms and are incidentally detected during the medical evaluation of an unrelated problem. Some patients may present with flank pain, bloody urine, excessive fatigue and unintentional weight loss. A small percentage of patients present with a palpable mass in abdomen, in addition to other symptoms.


Renal cell cancer is diagnosed mainly based on imaging tests such as CT or MRI. For most kidney cancers, surgical removal of the affected kidney is done as the first step for both diagnosis and treatment purposes. Nonetheless, if the cancer has spread beyond kidney, upfront surgery may not be recommended for some patients. In that case, biopsy of the kidney mass may be needed prior to initiation of treatment.

Stage of kidney cancer is based on imaging tests and pathology findings of surgical removed kidney. As in other types of cancer, stage is indicated in a range from I to IV. Lower stages indicate cancer is confined to the kidney while stage IV indicates cancer has spread to other organs.


Kidney cancer patients are treated with a variety of procedures that may include:


Nephrectomy is surgical removal of the affected kidney entirely as an open surgical procedure or through a laparoscopic approach with robotic assistance. If the cancer is small enough or preserving kidney function is essential, partial nephrectomy can be considered if feasible.

Ablative therapy

  • Cryotherapy or radiofrequency ablation is an alternative to partial nephrectomy when patients with small kidney cancers are not able to tolerate surgery. Cryotherapy kills cancer cells through freezing whereas radiofrequency ablation is through heating.
  • Stereotactic Radiosurgery (CyberKnife®). Stereotactic body radiation therapy (SBRT), also known as Cyberknife®, is also an alternative therapy for patients with small kidney cancers who are not a candidate for surgery.


Immunotherapy is a treatment that activates immune system and enables it to fight cancer cells. Immunotherapy drugs are given through a vein, namely intravenously infusion, once every few weeks. Some treatment regimens consist of an immunotherapy drug and a targeted therapy drug, which some regimens consist of one or two immunotherapy drugs.

Targeted therapy

Targeted therapy is a group of drugs that block blood supply to cancer cells or inactivate other functions important to their growth. Most of targeted therapy are oral medications. Over the last few years, targeted therapy has been increasingly used in combination with immunotherapy for better efficacy. 

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Research and Clinical Trials

If your physician believes you are a good candidate to participate in a clinical trial evaluating a new treatment or more effective combinations of treatments — and you agree — you will have access to the very latest in research treatments.

At any given time, the Swedish Cancer Institute offers patients more than 140 clinical-research studies involving most types of cancers.  Additionally, our physician specialists collaborate with other regional and national research groups, including  Southwest Oncology Group, National Cancer Institute, Puget Sound Oncology Consortium and Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.

The following clinical trial is available at Swedish Cancer Institute:
A Phase 2 Trial of PT2977 in Combination With Cabozantinib in Patients With Advanced Clear Cell Renal Cell Carcinoma. Learn more

Education and Support for Patients and Families

Beyond physical health, the Swedish Cancer Institute is committed to the emotional well-being of our patients and their families. We offer:

Complementary therapies include:

See Patient Support and Resources and Services for the Body, Mind and Spirit at Swedish.

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