Kidney Cancer

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Cancer 101 Pictures Slideshow: A Visual Guide to Understanding Cancer

What are kidney cancer treatments?

Surgery

Surgery is the most common treatment for people with kidney cancer. The type of surgery depends on the size and stage of the cancer, whether you have two kidneys, and whether cancer was found in both kidneys.

You and your surgeon can talk about the types of surgery and which may be right for you:

  • Removing all of the kidney (radical nephrectomy): The surgeon removes the entire kidney along with the adrenal gland and some tissue around the kidney. Some lymph nodes in the area may also be removed.
  • Removing part of the kidney (partial nephrectomy): The surgeon removes only the part of the kidney that contains the tumor. People with a kidney tumor that is smaller than a tennis ball may choose this type of surgery.

There are two approaches for removing the kidney. The surgeon may remove the tumor by making a large incision into your body (open surgery). Or the surgeon may remove the tumor by making small incisions (laparoscopic surgery). The surgeon sees inside your abdomen with a thin, lighted tube (a laparoscope) placed inside a small incision. Sometimes a robot is used. The surgeon uses handles below a computer display to control the robot's arms.

The surgeon may use other methods of destroying the cancer in the kidney. For people who have a tumor smaller than 4 centimeters and who can't have surgery to remove part of the kidney because of other health problems, the surgeon may suggest:

  • Cryosurgery: The surgeon inserts a tool through a small incision or directly through the skin into the tumor. The tool freezes and kills the kidney tumor.
  • Radiofrequency ablation: The surgeon inserts a special probe directly through the skin or through a small incision into the tumor. The probe contains tiny electrodes that kill the kidney cancer cells with heat.

It takes time to heal after surgery, and the time needed to recover is different for each person. It's common to feel weak or tired for a while.

Also, you may have pain or discomfort for the first few days. Medicine can help control your pain. Before surgery, you should discuss the plan for pain relief with your doctor or nurse. After surgery, your doctor can adjust the plan if you need more pain control.

Your health care team will watch you for signs of bleeding, infection, or other problems. They will keep track of how much fluid you take in and how much urine passes out of your body.

If one kidney is removed, the remaining kidney is usually able to do the work of both kidneys. However, if your remaining kidney isn't doing a good job cleaning your blood, you may need dialysis. Some people may need a transplant with a healthy kidney from a donor.

You may want to ask your doctor these questions before having surgery:

  • What type of surgery do you suggest for me? Do you recommend surgery that is through a large incision? Or through small incisions with a laparoscope? Do you recommend surgery with a robot?
  • Will lymph nodes and other tissues be removed? Why?
  • How will I feel after surgery? If I have pain, how can it be controlled?
  • How long will I be in the hospital?
  • When will I be able to return to normal activities?
  • What are the long-term effects of the surgery? Will I need dialysis?

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