Treatment for Kidney Cancer

At Northwestern Medicine, we treat patients at all stages of kidney cancer, from early to advanced.

For smaller or localized masses, surgery is, generally, the primary treatment. Some small masses may even just be observed, with no recommended treatment initially. Survival rates for small masses are outstanding.

Kidney cancer that has spread to lymph nodes or other parts of the body often require systemic therapy. Surgery may also be performed in combination with other therapies.


Surgical treatment of kidney cancer can take one of three forms:

  • Partial nephrectomy: Removal of the cancerous tissue from the kidney while preserving the healthy remainder of the kidney. Your urologist will discuss with you the risks and potential benefits of partial nephrectomy. Together, you will determine if this surgery is right for you. Northwestern Medicine surgeons are specialists in both open and minimally invasive partial nephrectomy using highly advanced robotic equipment for better precision.
  • Radical nephrectomy: For larger tumors or when partial nephrectomy is not feasible, this surgery removes the entire diseased kidney, tissues surrounding the kidney and a portion of the tube that connects the kidney to the bladder.
  • Ablation: This technique destroys cancerous tissue without removing it, either by freezing it or applying high heat through a special device.

Systemic Therapy

If you have metastatic kidney cancer (cancer that has spread beyond the kidney), a medical oncologist is a critical part of your Northwestern Medicine kidney cancer team. Systemic therapy involves medications that are administered either orally or intravenously (into the vein). These medications then circulate through your bloodstream to attack cancerous cells anywhere in the body.

Clinical Trials

At Northwestern Medicine, we are committed to advancing the understanding and treatment of disease. Our physicians offer leading-edge treatments, such as immunotherapy and cancer-targeted therapies, through clinical trials.

  • Immunotherapy is a treatment that increases the ability of your own immune system to fight cancer. Substances made by your body or made in a laboratory are used to boost, direct or restore your body's natural defenses against cancer.
  • Targeted therapy uses medications or other substances to identify and attack specific cancer cells without harming healthy cells.
    • Targeted therapy using antiangiogenic agents can be used to treat advanced kidney cancer. Antiangiogenic agents keep blood vessels from forming in a tumor, causing the tumor to stop growing or shrink. Monoclonal antibodies and kinase inhibitors are two types of antiangiogenic agents used to treat kidney cancer.
    • Kinase inhibitors stop cells from dividing and may prevent the growth of new blood vessels that tumors need to grow. An mTOR inhibitor is a type of kinase inhibitor. Everolimus and temsirolimus are mTOR inhibitors used to treat advanced kidney cancer.
  • Embolization uses particles to block the flow of blood to a tumor or abnormal area of tissue, causing it to stop growing or shrink.