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Sarcomatoid renal (kidney) cancer

Read about what sarcomatoid renal (kidney) cancer is, how it's treated and how to cope.

Sarcomatoid renal cancer is a rare type of kidney cancer. From 1 to 15 out of 100 (1 to 15%) kidney cancers are sarcomatoid renal cancers.

Most kidney cancers start in cells called clear cells, but they can start in other cells too. It seems that any type of renal cell cancer can become sarcomatoid. This means that the cells of the cancer look like the cells of a sarcoma – a cancer of the body’s supporting tissues, such as muscles, nerves, fat, blood vessels and fibrous tissues.

Sarcomatoid renal cancers tend to grow more quickly than other types of kidney cancer and are more likely to spread to other parts of the body. This makes them more difficult to treat.

Symptoms and diagnosis

The symptoms of sarcomatoid kidney cancer are the same as the symptoms of kidney cancer. The tests you have to diagnose it are the same too.


If your cancer is contained within the kidney, your main treatment is surgery. If your doctor feels there is a high risk of the cancer coming back they will recommend further treatment with chemotherapy or biological therapy.

If your cancer has spread or cannot be removed with surgery, you may have a biological therapy or chemotherapy.

Chemotherapy does not usually work well for sarcomatoid kidney cancer. But for some people it can help to control the cancer and stop it growing or shrink it for a while.

Doctors tend to use similar chemotherapy drugs to those they use to treat other types of sarcoma. This is often a combination of different chemotherapy drugs, including the drug doxorubicin (Adriamycin). Other drugs you might have are ifosfamide, dacarbazine and more recently gemcitabine.

Doctors are still trying to find out more about the best way to use chemotherapy drugs for sarcomatoid renal cell cancer, including giving chemotherapy with types of biological therapy. They are also trying to find out which patients are likely to benefit most from these treatments.


Coping with a diagnosis of a more aggressive cancer can be especially difficult, both practically and emotionally. Being well informed about your cancer and its treatment can make it easier to make decisions and cope with what happens.

Talking to other people who have the same thing can also help.

Our discussion forum Cancer Chat is a place for anyone affected by cancer. You can share experiences, stories and information with other people who know what you are going through.

The Rare Cancer Alliance offer support and information to people affected by rare cancers.

Research and clinical trials

There may be fewer clinical trials for rare types of cancer than for more common types.

It is hard to organise and run trials for rare cancers. Getting enough patients is critical to the success of a trial. The results won't be strong enough to prove that one type of treatment is better than another if the trial is too small.

The International Rare Cancers Initiative (IRCI) aims to develop more research into new treatments for rare cancers. They are designing trials that involve several countries so that more people will be available to enter trials.

Last reviewed: 
24 Feb 2016
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