As kidney cancer treatments improve, oncologist’s optimism is growing

June 25, 2014 | by

Treatments for kidney cancer have improved dramatically in recent years, with new therapies already in use and others on the near horizon. The need has never been greater: Incidence rates for kidney cancer are rising.

Cancer of the kidneys, shown here, is on the rise.

Kidney cancer is on the rise. Fortunately, so are treatment advances. City of Hope's Sumanta Pal explains his optimism when it comes to treatment of kidney cancer.

This year, nearly 64,000 new cases of kidney cancer will be diagnosed in the United States, and approximately 13,860 people will die from the disease, according to the American Cancer Society.

Sumanta Kumar Pal, M.D., co-director of the Kidney Cancer Program at City of Hope, is confident that these new treatment advances will not only change kidney cancer statistics, but also improve the overall well-being of patients diagnosed with the disease.

City of Hope is at the forefront of this field. Its researchers are exploring an array of techniques and therapies to improve survival and quality of life for people with kidney cancer. Their investigations include the use of drugs (including PD-1 inhibitors, mentioned below, and S1PR1 inhibitors) to stimulate the body's immune system, as well as the use of stem cell antibodies to target "bad" stem cells.

But that's just for starters. Scientists here are also exploring the ability of a class of drugs known as MET inhibitors to fight a rare subtype of kidney cancer, even as they test the use of fluorescent dyes during kidney cancer surgery.

Similar advances in kidney cancer treatment are being made around the country. Pal recently highlighted some of the most promising research presented earlier this month at the American Society of Clinical Oncology annual meeting in Chicago.

In one phase I study, researchers at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center found that drugs known as PD-1 inhibitors yielded a 29 percent response rate against kidney cancer. PD-1 inhibitors stimulate the body’s own immune response to fight cancer, and the study results were considered impressive enough to cheer oncologists specializing in kidney cancer.

The second phase of the same study showed a slightly lower response rate, in the range of 15 to 25 percent, a still promising result that fails to dim his optimism toward the drug, Pal said.

Still another study assessed the potential of another immune-modifying agent in combination with PD-1 inhibitors.  That study was led by researchers from the Levine Cancer Institute and found that when PD-1 inhibitors are used in combination with other agents, such as sunitinib, pazopanib or ipilimumab, patients had nearly a 50 percent response rate, with nearly all patients in the study experiencing tumor shrinkage.

Pal noted that while there were some concerns about toxicity in the data, the overall response rates in the study were "amazing."

“Phase III of the study should get under way this year and it could be a real game changer on how we manage kidney cancer,” said Pal.

Staying on top of their game is how physicians at City of Hope save lives. By conducting their own kidney cancer research – even as they monitor research elsewhere – City of Hope physicians are able to make the most informed, most leading-edge treatment recommendations possible.

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