Surgery may be the only treatment you need. The type of operation you have will depend on the stage of the cancer and on your general health. It’s important to talk over the operation with your surgeon and specialist nurse before you have it.
If you're struggling to find what you need, call our Support line on 0808 808 0000 (Monday to Friday, 9am-8pm)More ways to contact us
Surgery is the main treatment for kidney cancer and it may be the only treatment you need. The operation will depend on the stage of the cancer and your general health. There are different types of surgery:
Kidney-sparing surgery is often used to treat small cancers (under 4cm). The surgeon only removes the affected part of the kidney. This type of surgery is also used with people who have only one kidney or suffer from a kidney disease.
During a nephrectomy the surgeon removes the whole kidney. This is a big operation but you can live with only one kidney.
There are different ways a surgeon can operate on the kidney; open, laparoscopic and robotic surgery.
If you have advanced kidney cancer, surgery will not cure the cancer. But removing the kidney may help the other treatments work better and reduce some symptoms. You will need to discuss the benefits and the risks of the operation with your specialist.
This is the most common operation for cancers that are smaller than 4cm. But it may sometimes be done with larger cancers.
The surgeon removes only the part of the kidney containing the cancer. This is called a partial nephrectomy or kidney-sparing surgery. The aim is to remove the cancer. And to leave you with as much normal kidney tissue as possible so the kidney can still work.
Kidney-sparing surgery may also be done if it’s important to try to keep the affected kidney. For example, if you have only one working kidney or have kidney disease. If you have an inherited type of kidney cancer, you may be offered this operation. This is because there is a risk you could develop a cancer in your other kidney.
This is when the surgeon removes the whole kidney and some surrounding tissue. Your surgeon may also remove lymph nodes close to the kidney to check them for cancer cells.
You can live a normal life with just one kidney. It will do the work usually shared by both kidneys. Removing a kidney is a big operation. You will need to be reasonably fit. This type of surgery isn’t suitable for everyone.
If there is cancer in one of the large blood vessels leaving the kidney, it may be possible to have an operation to remove it. But this is a more complex operation. You will need to go to a specialist unit to have it done.
If the cancer has already spread to other places in the body, removing the kidney won’t usually cure the cancer. But it may help other treatments work better and reduce cancer symptoms.
You need to consider the possible advantages of having the kidney removed as well as the effects of having a big operation. Your doctors can talk over the possible benefits and disadvantages with you.
There are different ways a surgeon can operate on the kidney.
For open surgery, the surgeon makes one large cut (incision), up to 30cm long, just under the bottom rib or between the two bottom ribs. After the operation, the surgeon stitches or staples the wound closed.
Laparoscopic surgery is also sometimes called keyhole surgery. The surgeon makes 2–3 small cuts and one larger cut. They use a laparoscope to see and work inside the tummy (abdomen).
The laparoscope is a thin tube with a light and a camera that sends video images to a TV monitor. The surgeon puts the laparoscope into the abdomen through a small cut in the skin. A larger cut is usually made close to the belly button and is used to remove the kidney. The position of the cuts may vary from person to person. Your surgeon can advise you on this.
The surgeon may use a specialised machine to help with keyhole surgery. Instruments attached to the machine are controlled by the surgeon. This is called robotic surgery. It makes it possible for the surgeon to carry out very precise surgery.
Laparoscopic surgery leaves a small wound so recovery is quicker than with open surgery.
Rarely, an operation may be done to remove a secondary cancer in another part of the body. This is very specialised surgery. It’s generally only possible if the cancer has spread to a limited area – usually just to one place in the body.
It’s also important that you’re fit enough to cope with the operation. Removing a secondary cancer may help to control the cancer for longer. Occasionally, it may be used to try to cure the cancer.
Surgery is cutting away body tissue. It is used to treat lots of types of cancer.
A team of specialists will plan your surgery. This will include a surgeon who specialises in your type of cancer.
Your surgery will be carefully planned with you by a team of specialists.
You will have follow-up appointments after your surgery to check on your recovery and any new symptoms.
You’ll be monitored very closely after your operation. You will be tired so it’s important to rest and look after yourself.
Read our booklet about kidney cancer. It covers causes and symptoms, diagnosis, staging and grading, treatments and clinical trials.
Worrying about cancer can have a big impact on your feelings. Read our advice to help you cope with your emotions.
If you're deciding which charity to support with your fundraising, talk to us. We want to be there for everyone affected by cancer, and we need your help.
What's happening near you? Find out about support groups, where to get information and how to get involved with Macmillan where you are.
Read this webchat transcript, in which our Macmillan Support Nurses Josie and Kate answered questions on Kidney cancer. Topics include treatment, support groups and different types of diagnosis.
A place for people affected by kidney cancer to support one another, ask questions, and share their experiences.
We rely on a number of sources to gather evidence for our information. If you’d like further information on the sources we use, please feel free to contact us on: email@example.com
All our information is reviewed by cancer or other relevant professionals to ensure that it’s accurate and reflects the best evidence available. We thank all those people who have provided expert review for the information on this page.
Our information is also reviewed by people affected by cancer to ensure it is as relevant and accessible as possible. Thank you to all those people who reviewed what you're reading and have helped our information to develop.
You could help us too when you join our Cancer Voices Network – find out more at: http://www.macmillan.org.uk/cancervoices
Need to talk? Call us free* 0808 808 00 00 Monday to Friday, 9am-8pm
© Macmillan Cancer Support, registered charity in England and Wales (261017), Scotland (SC039907) and the Isle of Man (604). Also operating in Northern Ireland. A company limited by guarantee, registered in England and Wales company number 2400969. Isle of Man company number 4694F. Registered office: 89 Albert Embankment, London SE1 7UQ. VAT no: 668265007
We make every effort to ensure that the information we provide is accurate and up-to-date but it should not be relied upon as a substitute for specialist professional advice tailored to your situation. So far as is permitted by law, Macmillan does not accept liability in relation to the use of any information contained in this publication or third party information or websites included or referred to in it.