by Blake Moore, MD

Kidney cancer is one of the 10 most common cancers for both men and women. The lifetime risk for developing it is about 1 in 48 for men and 1 in 83 for women, with the risk increasing as you age. Other risk factors include smoking, obesity, hypertension, kidney disease and family history.

However, many cases of kidney cancer do not have an obvious cause. The disease is often discovered by chance when patients seek healthcare for something else.

If you’re diagnosed with kidney cancer your doctor may recommend treatment that includes a nephrectomy to remove all or part of the kidney.

What is a partial nephrectomy?

A partial nephrectomy is surgery in which the surgeon removes only the part of the kidney that has tumors. This helps to saves more of your kidney function compared to radical nephrectomy, which removes the entire kidney.

Here’s how the surgery works. After exposing the kidney, the surgeon examines the borders of the tumor, often with an ultrasound probe. Then the surgeon removes the tumor in its entirety. Once the tumor is removed, the surgeon reconstructs the kidney.

Increasingly, surgeons may perform a minimally invasive robotic partial nephrectomy. In robotic surgery, the surgeon makes a few small incisions in your abdomen. Through those, the surgeon inserts equipment including a video camera and small surgical tools. This robotic-assisted partial nephrectomy can result in less bleeding and quicker recovery.

What are the benefits of partial nephrectomy?

Partial nephrectomy can result in a better quality of life while decreasing the risk of kidney failure in the future. Preserving kidney function can also improve potential healthcare needs and cost.

The benefits of robotic-assisted partial nephrectomy include the following:

  • The surgeon sees the operation magnified by ten times, resulting in more precise hand movements.
  • You may feel less post-operative pain.
  • Your recovery time is typically shorter, meaning you get to leave the hospital faster.
  • You can get back to your normal life faster.

How successful is a partial nephrectomy at curing the cancer?

You might assume it is safer to take the entire kidney, but studies show that partial nephrectomy has similar cancer outcomes. Although this was initially the case only for small tumors, more research has shown that larger tumors removed while preserving kidney tissue also have similar cancer outcomes. The surgeon’s experience determines if these more complex procedures should be performed.

Are you a good candidate for partial nephrectomy?

A kidney-saving partial nephrectomy is the preferred option unless it is not possible due to the location or size of tumors. Your surgeon will consider those factors in determining if you are a good candidate.

A partial nephrectomy is a particularly good option if you:

  • Have multiple tumors or tumors in both kidneys. Saving one or both kidneys will help prevent kidney failure.
  • Have high blood pressure.
  • Have diabetes.
  • Already have poor kidney function. Saving a kidney can help you avoid dialysis and improve your quality of life. It may also help you live longer.
  • Have kidney stones. If you have—or have ever had—a kidney stone, you are at higher risk to develop more. And when you have only one kidney, it can be very serious if the stone blocks urine from getting to the bladder.

But all patients should be evaluated for possible partial nephrectomy if cancer is suspected.

Learn more about the latest kidney cancer treatment options and the award winning urological care at Retreat Doctors’ Hospital.