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What is a Nephrectomy?

Nephrectomy is removal of the kidney. This can be performed for treatment of cancer, non-functional or chronically infected kidney, severe kidney stone disease, or other, less common reasons. Nephrectomy is considered a major surgical procedure, but technological advances have greatly lowered the discomfort associated to the procedure and shortened the recovery time.

Types of Nephrectomy Surgery

Removal of the kidney can be classified as “Simple” or “Radical”. Radical surgeries are performed for cancer and include more aggressive removal of the layers surrounding the kidney. "Partial" nephrectomies are also possible, in which a tumor is removed with a thin rim of healthy tissue.

Simple or radical nephrectomies can be performed through an open approach, with a larger incision, but are more commonly performed laparoscopically. The laparoscopic approach to this surgery uses long, thin instruments, which are inserted through small incisions on the body. Laparoscopic nephrectomy is less painful than open nephrectomy and has a faster recovery period.

Procedure of Nephrectomy

The procedure is performed under general anesthesia and takes about 3 hours. Depending on the approach used you may have several small incisions or a single large incision. The kidney is removed in a single piece. Following the procedure you will stay in the hospital overnight. You may have a urinary catheter overnight that is usually removed before discharge.

Complications of Nephrectomy

Short term complications of nephrectomy can include injury to anything inside of your abdomen, such as nerves, muscles, or intestines, although these types of injury are rare. If your kidney was working prior to the surgery, you may have some decrease in your overall kidney function. The lifelong risk of dialysis after complete removal of one kidney with a normal functioning kidney remaining is 4%. Most patients recover quickly.

If your kidney was removed for cancer, you will required at minimum one year follow up to ensure that the cancer has not spread to another part of the body. Your doctor will discuss your care with you in more detail depending on your condition.

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