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 reduce 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).

Interleukin 2 (IL-2) is approved for metastatic kidney cancer, when the disease has spread to other places in the body. The medicine is given by shots under the skin or by IV. 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 that can be long lasting. Unfortunately, the medicine has many side effects and is not appropriate for all patients with renal cell carcinoma.

A combination treatment of bevacizumab and interferon-alpha is used for patients with kidney cancer that has spread to other parts of the body. The medicines are given by IV and work by preventing the growth of new blood vessels to the tumor. The most common side effects are hypertension and gastrointestinal bleeding or perforation.


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

Side effects may include:

  • Chills
  • Fever
  • Low blood pressure
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Rash
  • Shortness of breath

Side effects for the bevacizumab and interferon alpha combination may include:

  • Fatigue
  • Weakness
  • Protein in the urine
  • High blood pressure
  • Bleeding

Targeted Therapy

These medications attempt to interfere with the growth of the tumor by blocking the formation of new blood vessels around the tumor.

Sorafenib (Nexavar)

Sorafenib (Nexavar) targets several different pathways of tumor growth. The most common side effects include:

  • Rash
  • Diarrhea
  • Hypertension
  • Redness
  • Pain
  • Swelling
  • Blisters on the palms of the hands or soles of the feet
  • Nerve damage
Sunitinib (Sutent)

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. Side effects may include:

  • Diarrhea
  • Change in skin color
  • Mouth irritation
  • Weakness
  • Altered taste
  • Tiredness
  • Hypertension
  • Bleeding
  • Hypothyroidism
Temsirolimus (Torisel)

Temsirolimus (Torisel) is an IV medicine used in advanced 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
Pazopanib (Votrient)

Pazopanib (Votrient) is approved for the treatment of advanced kidney cancer. It works by preventing the growth of new blood vessels to tumors. The most common side effects include: