What Are Biomarkers and How Are They Used in Kidney Cancer?

Not all patients with kidney cancer need to undergo extensive biomarker testing with the current treatments available, but Dr. David A Braun said that he is optimistic about the future of biomarker testing for this patient population.

According to the American Cancer Society, “biomarkers are genes, proteins or other substances that can be tested for to reveal important details about a person’s cancer.” Oftentimes, biomarkers can be used to determine more personalized treatments for patients or lend insight into their prognosis.

The most common biomarker used in the kidney cancer space is determining whether patients’ disease have sarcomatoid or rhabdoid histology, which could indicate that patients are more likely to respond to immunotherapy or other targeted therapies, explained Braun, who is an assistant professor of Medicine at Yale Cancer Center.

Braun sat down at the 2024 Genitourinary Cancers Symposium to discuss the current and future use of biomarkers in patients with kidney cancer.


Not all kidney cancer patients undergo extensive biomarker testing, meaning genomics and transcriptomics. And these sorts of things. But I think the real answer is they shouldn’t at this stage.

I’m really optimistic about biomarkers. I think they play an important role, and I think we’ll see lots of developments in the years to come. But if we were to sit here and say, ‘Today, how does this affect my practice? Monday morning in the clinic, how’s this going to affect that kidney cancer patient in front of me?’

Really, the only biomarker at this point that’s actionable is not something new, it’s not advanced. It doesn’t catch headlines, but it’s looking under the microscope and understanding the histology. And particularly for kidney cancer, it’s having sarcomatoid or rhabdoid histology. Those features are really suggestive of something that’s much more likely to respond to immunotherapy and much less likely to respond to other targeted therapies. And so again, where my hope is, [that] we’ll eventually enter an era where sequencing and single-cell approaches will have really utility and I think we will get there. But where we are right now, it’s really the histology that looking at a microscope that plays the biggest role in terms of biomarkers.

Transcript was edited for clarity and conciseness.

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