Surgery for kidney cancer

Doctors and nurses in surgery

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Surgery is the main treatment for kidney cancer. The aim is to remove the cancer and the tissue close to it. Your surgeon will decide whether you need to have all or part of the kidney removed. 

Partial nephrectomy (‘neff-freck-tome-ee’)

The part of the kidney containing the cancer is removed along with some tissue around it. This kind of surgery is done if the cancer is small and has not spread.

The position of the cancer in the kidney is important in deciding if you are suitable for a partial nephrectomy or not. This operation can be done through keyhole surgery or open surgery. 

Radical nephrectomy

Here the whole kidney and surrounding fatty tissue are removed. Sometimes the surgeon may remove the adrenal gland and nearby lymph glands as well.

The surgery usually involves a cut (incision) made between your lower ribs on the side where the cancer is found. You can live a completely normal life with just one kidney. You will not need to make changes to your diet or lifestyle.
 

Keyhole surgery

This is also known as laparoscopic surgery.  Your surgeon first makes a few small cuts in your tummy so a flexible tube called a laparoscope and other surgical instruments can go in. He or she can then remove your entire kidney or just part of it.

With keyhole surgery you may have a shorter stay in hospital and recover faster and with less pain compared to open surgery, as you only need a few small cuts in your tummy, instead of a larger cut with open surgery. 

You can ask to be referred to a specialised surgeon who performs keyhole kidney surgery if you want to have a keyhole surgery.

Occasionally your surgeon will want you to have a procedure before surgery to reduce the blood supply to the kidney. This is known as arterial embolisation. Read more about aterial embolisation.

Risks of surgery

Not everyone develops problems after surgery for kidney cancer but some do. Some of the possible risks include:

  • Bleeding during or after surgery
  • Wound/chest infection
  • Unwanted air in your chest cavity (pneumothorax)

If any of these complications develop, they can be treated by your surgeon.

Let your medical team know if you feel unwell, notice any bleeding or redness around the wound, have any swelling or develop any other symptoms.

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