Non-clear cell kidney cancer is a group of different subtypes of kidney cancer. Around 20-25% of people with kidney cancer (renal cell carcinoma, RCC) have non-clear cell RCC. There are not many treatment options for people with non-clear cell RCC because they are not included in phase 3 clinical trials. The aim of this study was to look at the effectiveness and tolerability of the pembrolizumab plus axitinib combination in people with metastatic chromophobe or papillary RCC.

There were 32 patients with chromophobe or papillary RCC who were treated with pembrolizumab plus axitinib as their first treatment after surgery. 13 (40%) had chromophobe RCC and 19 (60%) had papillary RCC. The cancer was controlled in more than three quarters of patients, and 43.7% responded to treatment (11 patients had stable disease and 14 patients had a partial response). The average time to when the treatment stopped working and the cancer started growing again was 10.8 months.

About a third of patients had to interrupt their treatment because of immune-related side effect. And just over a third of patients interrupted axitinib treatment because of hand-foot syndrome or high blood pressure.

The pembrolizumab plus axitinib combination could be an active and feasible first-line treatment option for patients with metastatic papillary or chromophobe RCC.

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