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Renal Cell Cancer Treatment (PDQ®): Treatment - Health Professional Information [NCI] - Stage IV and Recurrent Renal Cell Cancer

Stage IV renal cell cancer is defined by the American Joint Committee on Cancer's TNM classification system:

  • T4, any N, M0
  • Any T, any N, M1

The prognosis for any treated renal cell cancer patient with progressing, recurring, or relapsing disease is poor, regardless of cell type or stage. Almost all patients with stage IV renal cell cancer are incurable. The question and selection of further treatment depends on many factors, including prior treatment and site of recurrence, as well as individual patient considerations. Carefully selected patients may benefit from surgical resection of localized metastatic disease, particularly if they have had a prolonged, disease-free interval since their primary therapy.

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Local Therapy

Tumor embolization, external-beam radiation therapy (EBRT), and nephrectomy can aid in the palliation of symptoms caused by the primary tumor or related ectopic hormone or cytokine production. For patients with metastatic disease, two randomized studies have demonstrated an overall survival (OS) benefit in selected patients who have undergone initial cytoreductive nephrectomy prior to the administration of interferon-alpha.[2,3]

In the larger study, 246 patients were randomly assigned to either undergo a nephrectomy followed by interferon-alpha or receive interferon-alpha alone.[2] The median OS was 11.1 months when the primary tumor was removed first (95% confidence interval [CI], 9.2–16.5) compared with 8.1 months in the control arm (95% CI, 5.4–9.5; P = .05). In the smaller study, 85 patients with identical eligibility criteria were randomly assigned to treatment as in the larger study.[3] Patients who underwent nephrectomy prior to receiving interferon-alpha had a median OS of 17 months compared with an OS of 7 months in patients who received interferon-alpha alone (hazard ratio [HR], 0.54; 95% CI, 0.31–0.94; P = .03).

These studies were restricted to patients who were asymptomatic or minimally symptomatic, with a performance status (PS) of zero or one, according to the Eastern Oncology Group (ECOG) rating scale; these patients were also considered to be candidates for postoperative immunotherapy.[2,3][Level of evidence: 1iiA] Whether the benefit of cytoreductive nephrectomy extends to patients who are not subsequently treated with interferon-alpha has not been tested.

Selected patients with solitary or a limited number of distant metastases can achieve prolonged survival with nephrectomy and surgical resection of the metastases.[4,5,6,7,8,9] Even patients with brain metastases had similar results.[10] The likelihood of achieving therapeutic benefit with this approach appears enhanced in patients with a long disease-free interval between the initial nephrectomy and the development of metastatic disease.

Cytokine Therapy

Cytokine therapy with interferon-alpha or interleukin-2 (IL-2) has been shown to induce objective responses, and interferon-alpha appears to have a modest impact on survival in selected patients. Interferon-alpha has approximately a 15% objective response rate in appropriately selected individuals.[11] In general, these patients have nonbulky pulmonary and/or soft tissue metastases with excellent PS ratings of zero or one, according to the ECOG rating scale, and the patients show no weight loss. The interferon-alpha doses used in studies reporting good response rates have been in an intermediate range (6–20 million units 3 times weekly). A Cochrane analysis of six randomized trials, with a total of 963 patients, indicated a HR for survival of 0.78 (CI, 0.67–0.90) or a weighted average improvement in survival of 2.6 months.[11][Level of evidence: 1iiA]


WebMD Public Information from the National Cancer Institute

Last Updated: February 25, 2014
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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