Kidney cancer research

Researchers around the world are looking at better ways to treat kidney cancer and manage side effects. Go to Cancer Research UK's clinical trial database if you are looking for a trial for kidney cancer in the UK.

Talk to your specialist if there are any trials that you think you might be able to take part in. 

Some of the trials on this page have now stopped recruiting people. It takes time before the results are available. This is because the trial team follow the patients for a period of time and collect and analyse the results. We have included this ongoing research to give examples of the type of research being carried out in kidney cancer. 

Research and clinical trials

All cancer treatments must be fully researched before they can be used for everyone. This is so we can be sure that:

  • they work
  • they work better than the treatments already available
  • they are safe


It’s easier to treat cancer successfully if it is diagnosed early. Doctors want to diagnose kidney cancer early and with a simple test that people are willing to do. Researchers are trying to find out if it is possible to diagnose kidney cancer by looking for: 

•    substances in breath samples
•    proteins in blood and urine samples
•    cancer cells in urine samples


A few people inherit faulty genes that increase their risk of developing kidney cancer. Cancers caused by these faulty genes are called hereditary or familial kidney cancer. 

Researchers are looking at blood samples to gain a greater understanding of the genetic causes of kidney cancer. This includes genes that are known to increase risk of kidney cancer and possible new genes that may increase risk.


Targeted cancer drugs and immunotherapy

Targeted cancer drugs work by targeting the differences in cancer cells that help them to grow and survive. Other drugs help the immune system to attack cancer. They are called immunotherapies.

Some drugs work in more than one way. So they are targeted as well as working with the immune system. 

Treatment breaks

A number of targeted and immunotherapy drugs are now a standard treatment for advanced renal cell kidney cancer. 

You usually have these drugs for as long as they are working, but they have side effects. So doctors want to find out if people can have breaks from their treatment and if this will work just as well.

New drugs

Researchers are also focusing on new targeted drugs and whether they work better on their own, or in combination with each other. Examples of these drugs are: 

  • MEDI4736
  • savolitinib
  • tremelimumab

Combination treatment 

Some trials are also testing a combination of targeted drugs and chemotherapy for advanced disease.

Treatment after surgery

Doctors would like to find out if immunotherapy or targeted drugs would benefit people with an earlier stage disease. For some cancer types, you have treatment after surgery to try to prevent a cancer coming back. This is called adjuvant therapy. This is not a standard treatment for renal cell cancer. 

Researchers are comparing treatment, with no treatment and monitoring, in people who have had surgery to remove their renal cell cancer. 

Vascular targeted photodynamic therapy 

Research is looking at treating small renal cell kidney cancers with vascular targeted photodynamic therapy (VTP). Renal cell cancer is the most common type of kidney cancer.

VTP uses a light activated drug called WST 11, which you have through a drip into the vein. The doctor puts laser fibres into the tumour to activate the drug. This damages the blood vessels that feed the tumour and can shrink the tumour.

If research shows that it helps, future patients may be able to have VTP for small tumours instead of surgery.


Different types of kidney cancer respond to different treatments. Chemotherapy is used more often for transitional cell cancer (TCC) than it is for renal cell cancer. Transitional cell cancer is a type of cancer that can develop anywhere in the urinary system – including the bladder, kidney or the tubes connecting them (the ureters). 

New combinations of chemotherapy drugs are being tested in transitional cell cancer include. For example, gemcitabine and oxaliplatin.

Monitoring treatment

You usually have a CT scan before and during treatment for advanced renal cell cancer. Your doctors use these scans to work out exactly where the cancer is and if treatment is working. Researchers want to improve the way people are monitored and they think that a PET-MRI scan might be better. A PET-MRI scan combines a PET scan Open a glossary item and an MRI scan Open a glossary iteminto one to give detailed information about your cancer.

PET-MRI scans might be able to show how the cancer is behaving as well as measuring the size. This could help doctors make important decisions about treatment. 

Helping to relieve symptoms 

High intensity focused ultrasound (HIFU) is an experimental treatment. Strong beams of sound are directed precisely at cancer cells to kill them. HIFU is in trials as a possible treatment for some types of cancer, particularly prostate cancer. 

Researchers want to find out if HIFU is useful for people whose kidney cancer has come back in the pelvic area Open a glossary item. It might help symptoms such as pain and bleeding.

Our Research

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