Kidney Cancer Surgery

What is kidney cancer?

The kidneys are two bean-shaped organs, each about the size of a fist. They lie in your lower abdomen on each side of your spine. Their main job is to clean your blood, removing waste products and making urine.

Kidney cancer – also called renal cancer – is caused by the malignant kidney cells that grow out of control, forming a tumour. In most cases, kidney cancers first appear in the lining of tiny tubes in the kidney and can be found before they spread to the distant organs.

Cancers caught during the early stages can be treated successfully, however, tumours can become quite large before it is detected.

What are the risk factors associated with kidney cancer?

Smoking - The use of tobacco produces can increase your risk for kidney cancer by 50%.
Gender - Men are 50% more likely to develop kidney cancer than women.
Obesity - Being overweight can cause changes to your hormones that increase your risk.
Pain medication - Certain pain medication – including over-the-counter drugs – has been known to contribute to kidney cancer.
Genetics - Having a family history of kidney cancer increases your risk of developing the disease. The risk also increases when your siblings have kidney disease.
Chemicals - Exposure to chemicals such as asbestos, cadmium, benzene, organic solvents, or certain herbicides can increase your risk of developing kidney cancer

Stages of kidney cancer

Kidney cancer can be divided into two categories: Early stage and advanced stage.

Early stage kidney cancer is when the cancer is localized to the kidney and its surrounding fat and tissue, but has not spread to other parts of the body. Early stage kidney cancer is curable and can be treated with surgery alone. However, with advanced kidney cancer, the cancer has spread beyond the kidneys, involving other bodily structures such as the liver, lungs or lymph nodes. Advanced kidney cancer is less likely to be cured and have a limited prognosis.

When a patient is diagnosed with kidney disease, a physician will determine whether the tumour is in the early or advanced stage, by performing a series of tests including blood tests and imaging evaluations – CT scans or MRI’s. Using this approach, the cancer can be located and the extent of its progression determined. This helps the urologists at West Coast Urology actuate the best course of therapy for each individual patient, in order to offer the best cure rates while optimizing the patient’s quality of life


A nephrectomy is a surgical procedure to remove all or part of a kidney. A nephrectomy is performed to treat kidney cancer or remove a damaged kidney. In the instance of a donor nephrectomy, a healthy kidney will be surgically removed from one patient and transplanted into a patient who needs a functioning kidney.

There are two types of nephrectomy for a diseased kidney: partial and radical. In partial nephrectomy, only the diseased or injured portion of the kidney is removed. Radical nephrectomy involves removing the entire kidney, along with a section of the tube leading to the bladder (ureter), the gland that sits atop the kidney (adrenal gland), and the fatty tissue surrounding the kidney. When both kidneys are removed at the same time, the procedure is called bilateral nephrectomy.

The procedure used to remove a healthy kidney from a donor for the purpose of transplantation is called donor nephrectomy.


For patients with kidney cancer, surgery is the main option, as the chance of a patient surviving kidney cancer without surgery is extremely low. Even when the cancer has spread to other organs, the removal of the kidney containing the cancer can help some patients live longer.

Therefore, we may suggest surgery even if the patient’s cancer has spread beyond the kidney.

Depending on the stage and location of the cancer and other factors, surgery may remove either the cancer along with some of the surrounding kidney tissue (known as a partial nephrectomy), or the entire kidney (known as a radical nephrectomy).

The adrenal gland (the small gland that sits on top of each kidney) and fatty tissue around the kidney may be removed as well.

Frequently Asked Questions with regards to kidney cancer

  • What are kidneys and what do they do?

    Kidneys are two bean-shaped organs –about the size of a fist – that are located on either side of the spine in the middle-to-lower back. They have three main roles:

    • Make the hormone erythropoietin that controls the production of red blood cells in the bone marrow
    • Filter waste from the blood and make urine
    • Help regulate blood pressure
  • What are the symptoms of kidney cancer?

    Kidney cancer often presents no symptoms during the early stages. However, as the cancer grows, symptoms may develop. These symptoms include:

    • Side or back pain
    • Blood in the urine
    • Ongoing tiredness
    • A mass or lump in the side or lower back
    • Fast weight loss that happens without any effort to lose weight
    • Appetite loss
    • Fever with no known cause
    • High blood pressure
    • Leg or ankle swelling
  • How is kidney cancer diagnosed?

    There are various ways to determine whether or not a patient has kidney cancer. These include:

    • Medical history and physical examination
    • Urine tests
    • Blood tests
    • Imaging test
    • Biopsies
  • Can someone live a normal life with only one kidney?

    When a kidney is removed, the remaining kidney takes over the work of both. Although it is possible to live a normal healthy life with only one kidney, patients have to avoid anything that could cause harm to the remaining kidney. This could be alcohol, unhealthy eating or the use of certain medication.