A Systematic Review of Immune Checkpoint Inhibitors in Non-Clear-Cell Renal Cancer

Ana Filipa Palma Dos Reis, Diana Simão, Thomas Odeny, Chiara Rodrigues, Mário Fontes-Sousa, Ricardo Da Luz, Rajasree Pia Chowdry, Sarah J. Welsh, Channing Paller, Pedro C. Barata

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


BACKGROUND: Immune checkpoint inhibitors (ICI) have emerged as active therapies in the management of advanced RCC. While multiple studies have shown clinical activity of ICIs in clear cell histologies, the evidence to support their use in non-clear cell (ncc) subtypes is based on smaller prospective trials and retrospective analyses. OBJECTIVE: The objective of this review is to summarize the clinical outcomes of ICI-based therapies in ncc-subtypes and in tumors with sarcomatoid/rhabdoid features. METHODS: We performed a systematic literature search using PubMed, Google Scholar and ASCO databases. The keywords 'renal cell cancer' and 'immune checkpoint inhibitors' and equivalents were used and all original publications between July 2016 and July 2021 were included. RESULTS: We included a total of 14 publications, including two clinical trials and 12 case series. The most frequent histologies were papillary (up to 75-100%), unclassified (up to 34%) and chromophobe (up to 28%). ICI monotherapy showed some activity in both 1st and 2nd line with response rates up to 27%. ICI combination regimens yielded better activity than ICI monotherapy but, overall, a heterogeneous efficacy was noted across histologies. Overall, outcomes of ICIs were superior in tumors with sarcomatoid/rhabdoid features. CONCLUSION: The observed activity of ICI-based therapies was heterogeneous. Combination regimens, papillary subtype and sarcomatoid/rhabdoid features were associated with higher responses. These findings might help treatment decisions and require further validation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)115-127
Number of pages13
JournalKidney Cancer
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2022


  • Non clear cell renal cell cancer
  • advanced
  • immune checkpoint inhibitor
  • immunotherapy
  • systematic review


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