Treatment Options

Treatment for kidney cancer depends on its characteristics and stage, as well as on the patient’s overall health, preferences, and goals. Our team will work with you to determine the best treatment strategy for your cancer.

Active Monitoring

Approximately 80% of kidney cancers are detected by chance during a treatment or diagnostic (imaging) test for another health problem. These tumors are often so small – less than 1.5 inches – that they don’t require immediate treatment. Often this presents a dilemma as to whether it’s a benign tumor, a cancer that urgently needs surgery, or one that can simply be watched. Through the use of state-of-the-art imaging technologies such as multi-parametric MRI, UT Southwestern researchers in Radiology in collaboration with researchers in the Urology Department have developed novel protocols to closely monitor select patients with small kidney tumors and avoid unnecessary surgeries.

*Did You Know – 30% of small kidney tumors never grow. When they do, it’s typically no more than one-tenth of an inch per year.


Surgery to remove the tumor(s) is typically the first step in treating kidney cancer. When appropriate, we use robotic surgery in addition to traditional “open” surgical procedures. At UT Southwestern, we operate one of the top robotic kidney surgery programs in the country led by fellowship-trained urologists trained in the latest surgical approaches. Robotic surgery offers many benefits, including:

  • Smaller incisions
  • Less pain and scarring
  • Shorter recovery time
  • Ability to save more of the kidney

Radiofrequency ablation (RFA) is another surgical procedure we employ in select cases to remove tumors. Guided by ultrasound or CT scans, surgeons use a long thin probe to apply high-energy radiowaves to the tumor(s), heating and destroying cancer cells. FRA is an outpatient procedure that offers a quick recovery time.

Radiation Therapy

Surgery may not be an option for some patients. Ablative radiation can be used to target and kill cancer cells.

While conventional radiation does not work well in the treatment of kidney cancer, improved outcomes are observed with modern forms of radiation, such as stereotactic body radiation therapy (SAbR). By projecting highly-focused beams of radiation from many angles onto a tumor, lethal doses can be administered. The procedure is non-invasive and can treat tumors otherwise difficult to access.

Drug Therapy

Drug therapy is used to treat advanced kidney cancer – cancer that has metastasized – to slow or stop the growth of the disease. The two primary forms of drug therapy are targeted drugs and immunotherapy.

Targeted Drugs

Targeted drug therapy involves blocking the growth or progression of cancer on a molecular level by interfering with specific parts of cells involved in tumor growth and progression. Targeted therapy blocks or modified molecules on or inside the cancer cells to alter the basic cell functions, such as cell division and death.


Immunotherapy involves resetting the immune system to attack and kill cancer cells, much in the same way it already recognizes bacteria and viruses. Immunotherapy is currently the most promising treatment to achieve a potential cure in kidney cancer patients who have advanced disease. Approximately 30-40% or patients respond to immunotherapy.