Sunitinib Treatment for Kidney Cancer

Sunitinib treatment for kidney cancer emerged as a pivotal advancement when the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved it in 2006. This significant breakthrough in kidney cancer therapy introduced a new and effective option for patients, especially those with advanced or metastatic renal cell carcinoma (RCC).

As a multi-targeted tyrosine kinase inhibitor (TKI), sunitinib inhibits various receptors, including vascular endothelial growth factor receptors (VEGFRs) and platelet-derived growth factor receptors (PDGFRs), which are involved in the growth and spread of cancer cells. Its mechanism of action includes blocking these receptors to inhibit angiogenesis—the growth of new blood vessels to tumors—and directly targeting cancer cells, thereby impeding tumor growth and spread.

Primarily, sunitinib is indicated for the first-line treatment of advanced RCC. It stands as one of the standard treatments for patients with metastatic RCC, particularly those with clear cell histology, the most common RCC form. Additionally, sunitinib has been evaluated for adjuvant settings in RCC—treatments given after primary surgery to reduce cancer recurrence risk.

Sunitinib is administered orally in capsule form, facilitating outpatient treatment. The standard dosage involves a 4 weeks on/2 weeks off treatment schedule, which may be adjusted based on the patient's tolerance and response.

Clinical trials have demonstrated that sunitinib significantly improves progression-free and overall survival in metastatic RCC patients compared to interferon-alpha, a previous standard treatment. It has shown a higher response rate in advanced RCC patients, indicating a reduction in tumor size or disease stabilization.

Common side effects of sunitinib include fatigue, diarrhea, skin discoloration, mouth sores, hypertension, hand-foot syndrome, and thyroid dysfunction. Managing these side effects involves dose adjustments, symptomatic treatment, and careful monitoring of blood pressure and thyroid function.

Regular patient monitoring is essential, including assessments of blood pressure, thyroid function, liver function, side effects, and periodic imaging studies to evaluate treatment response and monitor disease progression.

The FDA's approval of sunitinib in 2006 for advanced RCC marked a landmark in kidney cancer treatment evolution. As one of the first TKIs used in RCC, sunitinib significantly impacted the treatment landscape, offering improved outcomes for many patients with advanced or metastatic disease. Its ability to target multiple pathways involved in tumor growth and angiogenesis has established it as a cornerstone of therapy in RCC.


Motzer RJ, Hutson TE, Tomczak P, et al. Sunitinib versus Interferon Alfa in Metastatic Renal-Cell Carcinoma. N Engl J Med. 2007;356(2):115-124.


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