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Kidney removal surgery (nephrectomy)

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Treatment for

  • Kidney cancer


Nephrectomy is a surgery to remove part of the kidney or all of the kidney.

  • Also called partial or radical nephrectomy
  • Mainly used to treat kidney cancer  
  • Requires up to a week in hospital, with full recovery after 3 months 

Birmingham Prostate Clinic are a team of leading urologists and oncologists, who specialise in diagnosing and treating prostate, bladder and kidney conditions.

Our consultants see patients for a wide range of common kidney problems, including kidney cancer. They’re experts in the latest techniques for nephrectomy and are here with specialist advice and treatment pathways.

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What is a nephrectomy?

Nephrectomy is the medical term for kidney removal surgery. It’s used to remove kidney tissue that has cancer or is damaged, injured or diseased. 

Removing the kidney is one of the main treatments for early or locally advanced kidney cancer, which is when it hasn’t spread elsewhere in the body. 

Sometimes surgery may not be able to treat the cancer, particularly its spread, but a nephrectomy can still slow down cancer progression and ease symptoms.

What are the types of nephrectomy?

There are two main kinds of kidney removal surgery:

Partial nephrectomy 

If your cancer is small and hasn’t spread outside your kidneys, only part of them is removed. This is also called “nephron-sparing” or “kidney-sparing” surgery. 

This kind of surgery might also be recommended if your body can’t cope with losing a whole kidney. 

Radical nephrectomy 

For larger tumours, the whole kidney is removed. Sometimes, extra nearby tissue and lymph nodes are removed too. You can still live a healthy life with just one working kidney.

There are two techniques for kidney surgery:

  • open surgery – using one large incision
  • keyhole surgery (laparoscopic) – using multiple smaller incisions and a camera

Keyhole surgery may take longer, but it can also lead to faster recovery and fewer complications. 

How does nephrectomy compare to other treatments?

Treatment for kidney cancer depends on the stage of the cancer, where it’s growing, and your overall health. 

Nephrectomy is usually the first choice of treatment for early-stage kidney cancer. If the surgeon can successfully remove all the cancer, you won’t need any other treatment.

Sometimes, surgery isn’t the best option. This might be if the cancer has spread, you’re not well enough for surgery, or there’s a high chance your cancer will come back. Other options are:

  • Cryotherapy – freezes and kills cancer cells
  • Radiofrequency ablation – uses radio waves to kill cancer cells
  • Renal arterial embolism – blocks blood supply to the kidney to shrink the cancer 
  • Radiotherapy – uses radiation to kill cancer cells
  • Immunotherapy – medicine that helps your immune system fight the cancer
  • Chemotherapy – kidney cancer cells are often resistant to chemotherapy, but it may work for certain types

Why should I choose Birmingham Prostate Clinic?

We are a leading group of urological and oncology experts with a seamless patient pathway for personalised cancer treatments. 

Our consultants give comprehensive care for kidney conditions, including kidney cancer. Our surgeons were pioneers, performing some of the first keyhole nephrectomies in the UK. 

Whether you need surgery, biological therapy, or access to cutting-edge radiotherapy techniques at GenesisCare, our consultants are experts in a complete range of treatments for kidney cancers at all stages. 

What to expect if you’re having a nephrectomy

Before you’re offered a nephrectomy, you need a health check to make sure you’re a good candidate. This includes scans, blood tests and urine tests, and a medical history.

The procedure

  • The surgery is carried out in a hospital, where you stay for 3-5 days depending on whether the surgery is open or laparoscopic
  • You’ll have general anaesthetic to put you to sleep during the procedure
  • Depending on whether the surgery is open or laparoscopic, your surgeon will make one or several incisions below your ribs
  • Part or all of the kidney is carefully removed, along with some surrounding tissue, the adrenal gland and lymph nodes if necessary
  • Lastly, your surgeon will close your incisions with stitches or staples
  • The procedure takes at least three hours


  • It’s normal to feel very tired for one or two weeks after surgery 
  • You’ll most likely have a catheter to help you urinate
  • You’ll need painkillers while you heal
  • You’ll be in hospital for anywhere between one and seven days, depending on whether it’s open or keyhole surgery
  • Stick to light activities for at least six weeks
  • It may be between 1-3 months before you can return to work
  • Full recovery takes around three months

What are the risks of having a nephrectomy?

Like any surgery, having a nephrectomy carries certain risks, including:

  • Bleeding
  • Infection
  • Injury to surrounding organs
  • A potentially fatal reaction to the anaesthetic

Sometimes people with nephrectomy get pneumonia after surgery, but breathing exercises can help prevent this. 

While a single kidney can work just as well as two kidneys, there are risks with having reduced kidney function. These include high blood pressure, excess protein in your urine, chronic kidney disease, or even kidney failure.

Our surgeons are highly skills and experienced and undergo extensive training to enable them to minimise risks and maximise the chance of achieving the best possible outcomes.

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