Active surveillance of small renal masses: progression patterns of early stage kidney cancer

Eur Urol. 2011 Jul;60(1):39-44. doi: 10.1016/j.eururo.2011.03.030. Epub 2011 Apr 1.


Background: Most early stage kidney cancers are renal cell carcinomas (RCCs), and most are diagnosed incidentally by imaging as small renal masses (SRMs). Indirect evidence suggests that most small RCCs grow slowly and rarely metastasize.

Objective: To determine the progression and growth rates for newly diagnosed SRMs stratified by needle core biopsy pathology.

Design, setting, and participants: A multicenter prospective phase 2 clinical trial of active surveillance of 209 SRMs in 178 elderly and/or infirm patients was conducted from 2004 until 2009 with treatment delayed until progression.

Intervention: Patients underwent serial imaging and needle core biopsies.

Measurements: We measured rates of change in tumor diameter (growth measured by imaging) and progression to ≥ 4 cm, doubling of tumor volume, or metastasis with histology on biopsy.

Results and limitations: Local progression occurred in 25 patients (12%), plus 2 progressed with metastases (1.1%). Of the 178 subjects with 209 SRMs, 127 with 151 SRMs had>12 mo of follow-up with two or more images, with a mean follow-up of 28 mo. Their tumor diameters increased by an average of 0.13 cm/yr. Needle core biopsy in 101 SRMs demonstrated that the presence of RCC did not significantly change growth rate. Limitations included no central review of imaging and pathology and a short follow-up.

Conclusions: This is the first SRM active surveillance study to correlate growth with histology prospectively. In the first 2 yr, the rate of local progression to higher stage is low, and metastases are rare. SRMs appear to grow very slowly, even if biopsy proven to be RCC. Many patients with SRMs can therefore be initially managed conservatively with serial imaging, avoiding the morbidity of surgical or ablative treatment.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial, Phase II
  • Multicenter Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Biopsy, Needle
  • Carcinoma, Renal Cell / pathology*
  • Carcinoma, Renal Cell / therapy*
  • Disease Progression
  • Humans
  • Kidney Neoplasms / pathology*
  • Kidney Neoplasms / therapy*
  • Middle Aged
  • Neoplasm Staging
  • Population Surveillance
  • Prospective Studies