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What Is a Nephrectomy?


A nephrectomy is the surgical removal of one kidney. Bilateral nephrectomy is the surgical removal of both kidneys. A nephrectomy is most commonly performed to remove a tumor from the kidney. The tumor may be cancerous or benign (noncancerous). A nephrectomy can also be performed if the kidney is the source of repeat infections, advanced kidney stones, or is no longer working. 

Types of Nephrectomy

There are several different variations on how a nephrectomy is performed. The type of kidney removal is determined mainly by the type of disease that is being treated.

  • Radical Nephrectomy: Removal of the entire kidney along with the surrounding connective tissue and the ureter. This is most commonly performed in cases of kidney cancer.
  • Simple Nephrectomy: Removal of the kidney and a portion of the ureter while leaving the surrounding connective tissues. This is generally performed in non-cancerous cases.
  • Partial Nephrectomy: Removal of only the tumor or diseased portion of the kidney  while leaving behind otherwise healthy tissue. This is typically performed if the tumor is less than 7-cm in size or the patient has only one kidney. By leaving the remaining kidney, overall kidney function is improved postoperatively.
  • Laparoscopic Nephrectomy: In this type of surgery, the kidney is removed laparoscopically rather than through traditional open surgery which involves a large incision (8-16  inches long). Laparoscopic surgery involves the use of a laparoscope (miniature, wand-like camera) that is passed through a series of small incisions or “ports” in the abdominal wall. It can include hand-assisted laparoscopic surgery, as well as robot-assisted laparoscopic surgery using the da Vinci Robotic System. Smaller incisions mean faster healing, shorter recovery times, and smaller scars afterward.

The choice of surgery depends upon the size of the tumor, location of the tumor, and specific patient issues. KCUC surgeons offer all varieties of nephrectomy.

What to Expect After a Nephrectomy

After a stay or 3-7 days in the hospital you can return home. You can usually return to light activity within a week or two. It is common to occasionally have blood in the urine following a partial nephrectomy for up to several weeks. You may experience numbness in the skin surrounding the incision. You will need to avoid heavy lifting or strenuous activity for at least six weeks. 

Fatigue is also a common symptom for up to a month after surgery and varies with your age, health and fitness level. People who have only one kidney after a nephrectomy need ongoing care to monitor kidney function. This includes urinalysis and blood tests at least once a year. Other than that, most people can resume living a normal, active lifestyle for the remainder of their life with a single kidney. A single healthy kidney can work as well as two kidneys, but if both kidneys are removed, dialysis or a transplant is necessary to maintain life.

Cutting-Edge Urology and Oncology Care in Kansas City

From robotic surgery to cutting-edge treatments, we take pride in being the first to bring the forefront of medicine to the Midwest. The urologists at Kansas City Urology and Oncology use the latest and best treatments and tools to diagnose and treat urologic conditions and cancer. 

If you’d like to learn more about cutting-edge treatment options for kidney cancer or any urologic condition, contact one of the 23 KCUC Urology and Oncology locations throughout Kansas and Missouri and schedule an appointment to speak with a urologist. At KCUC, you see the best in KC.