Kidney Surgery: What to Expect from Our Urologists

Because most kidney cancers don’t respond well to treatments like chemotherapy and radiation therapy, removal of the tumors through kidney surgery is considered the most effective medical intervention that can be used to treat the disease.

The efficacy of surgical treatment depends on many factors, including the type of kidney cancer, the stage when it was discovered, and the location of the tumors. Nevertheless, even a patient whose cancer has metastasized to other organs may benefit from a kidney surgery that removes major tumors. It may not only help improve that patient’s health, it may also help enhance his or her quality of life by easing symptoms like pain and bleeding.

At Providence Saint John’s Health Center, our urologists diagnose and treat kidney cancer with the most advanced therapies available. They work with a team of specialists consisting of surgeons, medical oncologists, radical oncologists, pathologists, nurses, and researchers to afford patients the most focused and personalized care possible.

Diagnosis of kidney cancer

Before our patients can undergo surgery, they must first go through a battery of tests to determine exactly what their condition is. Urine tests, blood tests, ultrasound exams, CT scans, magnetic resonance imaging tests, and intravenous pyelogram may be used to detect and get a clear picture of the tumors.

Only after careful analysis of the biology of the cancer and of the condition of the patient will our urologists give a go signal for the kidney surgery. There are three basic types of surgeries that specialists can perform to treat kidney cancer. These include the following:

Radical nephrectomy

Radical nephrectomy is the complete removal of the kidney, adrenal gland, and neighboring lymph nodes.

The removal of the kidney can be performed either through an open operation or through laparoscopic surgery (minimally invasive surgery). In an open operation, a large incision is made on the abdomen or under the ribs so that the surgeons can gain access to the kidney. With laparoscopic surgery, several smaller incisions are made so that only small surgical tools and a video camera device called laparoscope can be inserted into the patient’s body. The surgeons will be able to see the whole surgical procedure on a monitor to which the camera is connected.

In other cases, laparoscopic surgery can be accomplished with the help of a robotic assistive device, like Providence Saint John’s da Vinci Surgery System. The surgeons are able to perform precise surgical procedures by operating the controls that manipulate the surgical tools.

When traditional laparoscopic surgery or robot-assisted laparoscopic surgery is chosen for radical nephrectomy, the surgeon will have to enlarge one of the incisions to make the removal of the organ possible.

Partial nephrectomy

Partial nephrectomy is a procedure that involves the removal of only part of the kidney. Also known as a nephron-sparing surgery, partial nephrectomy can also be performed either as an open procedure or through laparoscopic surgery.

Robot-assisted laparoscopic surgery is also possible with this type of surgery. In fact, a da Vinci Surgery is ideal for patients who are candidates for partial nephrectomy because of the advantages the procedure has over open surgery and traditional laparoscopic surgery. These include less blood loss, more precise removal of the cancerous tissues, lower risk of complications, shorter warm ischemic time (which is better for kidney function), and shorter hospital stay.

Partial nephrectomy is commonly done to remove smaller tumors. When it is possible to save part of the kidney, doctors favor this type of surgery because it prevents the need for the patient to resort to having regular dialysis. Nephron-sparing surgery may also help reduce the risk of the patient developing kidney disease in the future.


In cryosurgery, the surgeon makes a small incision on the skin, through which a special tool with a needle-like applicator will be inserted to engage the kidney tumor. Liquid nitrogen or argon gas is used to freeze and kill the cancerous tissues.

If you are experiencing a combination of unusual symptoms like discharging blood-stained urine, pain on your lower back, a mass on the side of your torso or on your lower back, unexplained weight loss, chronic fatigue, anemia, appetite loss, and unexplained fever, it is of utmost importance that you visit your doctor immediately. If you are diagnosed with kidney cancer, kidney surgery can prove to be a life-saving measure.

Get in touch with the Urologic Oncology Program of Providence Saint John’s Health Center today to learn more about the different types of kidney surgery and other kidney cancer treatment options that we offer.

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