Biologic therapy may be used in the treatment of kidney cancer that has spread.

Biologic Therapy

Biologic therapy is a treatment that uses drugs to improve the way your body’s immune system fights disease. Your immune system is your body’s natural defense against disease. Biologic therapy attempts to repair, stimulate, or enhance the immune system so that it can fight the cancer more effectively. These therapies can be used to fight cancer or to lessen the side effects that may be caused by some cancer treatments.

Examples of agents used to treat kidney cancer include interferon and interleukin 2 (also known as IL-2, aldesleukin, or proleukin). Doctors are investigating using interferons with other biologic agents.

Interleukin 2 (IL-2) is the only approved medication for metastatic kidney cancer, when the disease has spread to other places in the body. The medication is given either subcutaneously (shots under the skin) or intravenously (by vein) either in the hospital or in an outpatient setting. Treatment may be given in cycles separated by a rest period. Although only about one in six patients with renal cell carcinoma have shrinkage of their cancer with IL-2, some of these patients have disappearance of their cancer (complete remission) that can be long-lasting. Unfortunately, the medication has many side effects and is not appropriate for all patients with renal cell carcinoma.


Interleukin 2 produces responses in 15% of kidney cancer patients. Interferon response rate is about 15%. The combination of interferon with other chemotherapy drugs and IL-2 increases the response rate.

Side effects

Research shows adverse events occur in the majority of patients. The percentages of people experiencing common adverse events of IL-2 are as follows:

  • Chills: 52%
  • Fever: 29%
  • Low blood pressure: 71%
  • ]]>Diarrhea]]> : 67%
  • Vomiting: 50%
  • Rash: 42%
  • Shortness of breath: 43%

Targeted Therapy

This new class of medications attempts to interfere with the growth of the tumor by blocking the formation of new blood vessels around the tumor. In recent months, this drug has received FDA approval.

Sorafenib (Nexavar)

Sorafenib (Nexavar) is a new medication that targets several different pathways of tumor growth. The most common side effects seen with this drug include:

  • Rash
  • Diarrhea
  • ]]>Hypertension]]>
  • Redness
  • Pain
  • Swelling
  • Blisters on the palms of the hands or soles of the feet
  • Nerve damage

This medication is given in the form of a pill.

Sunitinib (Sutent)

Taken in pill form, sunitinib (Sutent) attacks both blood vessel growth and other targets that stimulate cancer cell growth. The results show tumor shrinkage in one third of the patients treated. The most common side effects are diarrhea, change in skin color, mouth irritation, weakness, and altered taste. Other possible effects include tiredness, hypertension, bleeding, and ]]>hypothyroidism]]> .

Temsirolimus (Torisel)

Temsirolimus (Torisel) is an intravenous medication used in advaced kidney cancer, which also works to inhibit cell growth. The most common side effects include:

  • Skin rash
  • Feeling weak
  • Mouth irritation
  • Nausea
  • Loss of appetite
  • Fluid buildup in the face or legs
  • Increases in blood sugar and cholesterol levels