What is a nephrectomy?

A nephrectomy is the surgical removal of a diseased or damaged kidney. A nephrectomy is a treatment for various kidney problems, including kidney cancer and irreversible kidney damage.

Your two kidneys are located on either side of your spinal column just below your ribcage. Your kidneys filter wastes and extra fluids from your blood, make urine, maintain electrolyte balance, help control blood pressure, and make certain hormones and enzymes. 

A nephrectomy is a major surgery with serious risks and potential complications. You may have less invasive treatment options. Consider getting a second opinion about all of your treatment choices before having a nephrectomy.

Types of nephrectomy

The types of nephrectomy include:

  • Bilateral nephrectomy is the removal of both kidneys. People with bilateral nephrectomies require dialysis or a kidney transplant to live.

  • Donor nephrectomy is the removal of a healthy kidney from a living donor for the purpose of transplantation.

  • Partial nephrectomy is the removal of only a portion of a diseased or damaged kidney.

  • Simple nephrectomy is the removal of an entire kidney.

  • Radical nephrectomy is the removal of an entire kidney, along with the adrenal gland (gland that sits on top of the kidney), surrounding lymph nodes, and possibly a section of ureter (tube that carries urine from the kidney to the bladder).

Other procedures that may be performed

Doctors sometimes perform a kidney transplant with a nephrectomy. A kidney transplant involves placing a donor kidney in the body to take over the work of severely damaged or diseased kidneys.

Medical Reviewers: Daphne E. Hemmings, MD, MPH Last Review Date: Oct 8, 2012

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Medical References

  1. Nephrectomy. Cleveland Clinic. http://my.clevelandclinic.org/services/nephrectomy/urology_overview.aspx.
  2. Nephrectomy. National Kidney Foundation. http://www.kidney.org/atoz/content/nephrectomy.cfm.
  3. Pile, JC. Evaluating postoperative fever: A focused approach. Cleveland Clinic Journal of Medicine. 2006;73 (Suppl 1):S62. http://ccjm.org/content/73/Suppl_1/S62.full.pdf.
  4. Radical Nephrectomy. UCLA Health System. http://urology.ucla.edu/body.cfm?id=555#WhatIsARadicalNephrectomy.
  5. Solitary Kidney. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK). http://kidney.niddk.nih.gov/kudiseases/pubs/solitarykidney/.
  6. Understanding the Various Surgical Approaches to the Most Common Form of Kidney Cancer. Kidney Cancer Association. http://www.kidneycancer.org/index.php/surgical-treatment

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