Surgery for Kidney Cancer

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Your kidneys are fist-sized organs in your mid back, one on each side of your spine. Their primary role is to filter waste from your blood and remove excess fluid from your body. Although you have two kidneys, one well-functioning kidney can do the job. This is good news for living kidney donors and people who must have surgery to remove a kidney, something that is frequently necessary to treat kidney cancer.

Surgery is usually first-line treatment.

In most cases, kidney cancer treatment includes surgery to remove the tumor or the whole kidney. Surgery may be necessary even if the cancer has spread to other parts of the body. In advanced kidney cancer, removing the kidney may not manage the cancer itself, but it can help relieve symptoms. This includes pain, bleeding, and discomfort from the tumor.

There are different types of surgery for kidney cancer.

The type of surgery doctors use to treat kidney cancer depends on the stage and type of cancer, and your overall health:

  • Partial nephrectomy: When performing a partial nephrectomy, or nephron-sparing surgery, a surgeon removes the tumor and only some of the kidney tissue. Doctors may recommend this type of surgery if the tumor is small enough to completely remove it. A partial nephrectomy may also be an option if the affected kidney is your only functioning kidney.
  • Nephrectomy: For a nephrectomy, the surgeon removes the entire kidney, but leaves the adrenal gland, which sits on the top of the kidney. The adrenal gland produces hormones and helps regulate your blood pressure.
  • Radical Nephrectomy: In a radical nephrectomy, the surgeon will remove the kidney along with some of the tissue around the kidney, and the closest lymph nodes. This may be necessary if the cancer has spread to tissues around the kidney or the adjacent lymph nodes.

Kidney cancer surgery has risks.

All types of surgery have some risks associated with them and complications may occur. Some of these risks and complications include:

  • Blood clots

  • Damage to internal organs

  • Excess blood loss

  • Infection

  • Kidney failure

  • Reaction to anesthesia

  • Urine leakage into the abdominal cavity

If you still have one functioning kidney after nephrectomy, your quality of life should not change. However, speak with your surgeon or urologist about any precautions you may have to follow, such as avoiding contact sports. Your doctor may also want to monitor your kidney function more closely, with annual urine tests for example.

Cancer stage is important to prognosis after kidney surgery.

The outlook, or prognosis, after kidney cancer surgery depends on the stage and type of cancer you have. The earlier the stage, the better the prognosis. In some cases, doctors follow kidney removal with other cancer treatments such as chemotherapy or radiation therapy. After surgery, your oncologist will explain the next steps in treatment. If you don’t require any further treatment, your doctor will monitor your health closely for a few years following the surgery to be sure the cancer has not returned. Follow-up exams usually include blood tests and CT scans.

Although kidney cancer isn’t easy always to diagnose in its early stages, treatment for the disease, including kidney removal surgery, can be quite successful.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2021 Mar 22
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.

  1. Kidney Cancer: Treatment and Drugs. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research.

  2. Living With One Kidney. National Kidney Foundation.

  3. Surgery for Kidney Cancer. American Cancer Society.

  4. What Are the Key Statistics About Kidney Cancer? American Cancer Society.

  5. What Happens After Treatment for Kidney Cancer? American Cancer Society.