Surgery is the main treatment for most types of kidney cancer. It's the first thing doctors recommend if the tumor hasn’t grown outside of the kidney. But it can still be an option if your cancer has spread to other parts of your body.
Talk to your doctor about all of your treatment options. Learn the benefits -- and risks -- of surgery so you can decide if it’s right for you.
The surgery for stage IV renal cell carcinoma is called a radical nephrectomy. A surgeon removes your whole kidney and some of the tissue around it.
If your cancer hasn't spread much farther than your kidney, the procedure might cure you. Even if your cancer has spread, surgery could help you live longer. It can also relieve symptoms like pain and bleeding.
Before your operation, you'll get general anesthesia. This medicine will make you sleep and keep you from feeling pain during the surgery. Your care team will put a thin tube called a catheter into your bladder to drain urine.
During the procedure, the surgeon makes a cut in your side, back, or belly and removes:
- Your whole kidney
- The adrenal gland that's on top of the kidney
- Some of the fat around the organ
- Some nearby lymph nodes
After surgery, you'll go to a recovery room. Your care team will watch your blood pressure, heartbeat, and other vital signs while you wake up from the medicine. After you're fully awake, you'll go to an intensive care unit or regular hospital room to finish your recovery.
You should be able to go home 3 to 5 days after the operation. About 2 weeks later, you'll see your surgeon to check on your progress.
It takes about 4 weeks to heal from surgery. During this time, you'll need to avoid heavy lifting and other intense activities.
If your cancer has spread to other organs, you will probably need another treatment besides surgery. Your doctor might give you targeted therapy or immunotherapy. These treatments kill cancer cells all over your body.
If you're not healthy enough for surgery, you have another option. A procedure called arterial embolization can relieve symptoms like pain and bleeding.
During this procedure, the surgeon places small pieces of a special gelatin sponge or other material into the main blood vessel that goes to your kidney. These pieces block blood flow to the organ. Without enough blood, the cancer will shrink.
Your doctor may want to do an arterial embolization before you have a radical nephrectomy. Shrinking the tumor can make it easier to do the surgery.
What Are the Risks?
Any operation can have risks. If you’re having a kidney removed, it’s possible that you’ll have problems such as:
- A reaction to the anesthesia drugs
- Damage to organs and blood vessels
- Your other kidney fails
Before your procedure, ask your surgeon about the chances you could have these problems.
Life After Kidney Surgery
Your body can work like normal with just one kidney. It will take over the job of filtering your blood.
You'll see your doctor for regular visits to make sure that your other kidney works well. You'll also have follow-up appointments to check the status of your cancer. Your doctor might recommend changes to your diet or exercise routine to help keep your kidney healthy.