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Kidney Cancer

Understanding Kidney Cancer

Kidney cancer starts when healthy cells in one or both kidneys change and grow out of control, forming a mass called a tumor. The most common type is renal cell carcinoma. Kidney cancer often doesn’t cause signs or symptoms in the early stages when the tumor is small. As it grows, symptoms may include:

Risk factors for kidney cancer include smoking, obesity, workplace exposure to chemicals, family history, and chronic kidney disease.

If kidney cancer is suspected, your doctor will do tests to confirm the diagnosis. This may include imaging tests like CT scan, MRI, ultrasound, or biopsy. Finding it early when it’s small and hasn’t spread improves the chances for successful treatment.

Considering Your Treatment Options

Once kidney cancer is diagnosed, you and your medical team will discuss the treatment options. The best approach depends on the stage and characteristics of the cancer, your overall health, and your preferences.

Options may include:

Monitoring small, early-stage tumors closely instead of treating right away. This spares the kidney.

Removing part or all of the kidney. This is often done if the cancer is contained in the kidney.

Radical nephrectomy: Removing the entire kidney, adrenal gland, surrounding fat and lymph nodes.

Partial nephrectomy: Removing just the tumor and some surrounding tissue, preserving kidney function.

Drug therapies that travel in the bloodstream to treat cancer cells throughout the body.

Targeted therapy: Drugs that target specific cancer cell proteins.

Immunotherapy: Drugs that help the immune system attack cancer cells

Chemotherapy: Cytotoxic drugs that kill rapidly dividing cells, including cancer cells

Using high-dose radiation beams to kill cancer cells.

Discuss all options thoroughly with your medical team to choose the best plan for you.

Exploring Your Surgical Options

If the cancer is localized to the kidney, surgery is often recommended. This can be done through traditional open surgery or minimally invasive techniques.

Open surgery:

Minimally invasive options:


  • Done through several small incisions
  • Uses a laparoscope (thin camera) to see inside
  • Surgeon uses long instruments
  • Usually results in shorter hospitalization and recovery than open


  • Similar approach to laparoscopic
  • Uses robotic system controlled by surgeon at console
  • Offers 3D, magnified visualization
  • Wristed instruments offer great dexterity
  • Enables precise, minimally invasive technique
  • Quicker recovery than open surgery

Discuss the pros and cons of each approach with your surgeon to choose what’s right for you.

How the da Vinci Robotic System Works

If your doctor recommends minimally invasive robotic-assisted surgery, it may be performed using the da Vinci Surgical System. This leading robotic platform consists of several key components:

The Surgeon Console

  • The surgeon sits at this console near the patient
  • It provides a 3D magnified view inside the patient’s body
  • The surgeon controls the robotic instruments using master controllers
  • Hand movements are translated in real-time to tiny wristed instruments

Tiny Wristed Instruments

  • These articulate and bend more intricately than the human hand
  • They minimize tremors and allow great precision
  • They are inserted through small ports into the patient

3D High Definition Vision System

  • A miniaturized camera provides superb 3D HD visualization
  • Special imaging like Firefly fluorescence can highlight anatomy
  • The surgeon sees the enhanced internal view on console screen

da Vinci enables surgery through tiny openings for excellent visibility, precision, dexterity and control. This allows for a minimally invasive approach with tiny scars. Patients often have less pain, shorter hospital stays, and faster recovery than open surgery.

Discuss with your doctor if da Vinci surgery may be right for your kidney cancer treatment.

Deciding if Surgery is Right for You

Surgery can be very effective for localized kidney cancer, but it’s major surgery with risks. Consider these tips when deciding if it’s the right option:

  • Discuss your specific situation – don’t rely on general statistics
  • Understand the risks and potential complications
  • Compare success rates/outcomes of your surgical team
  • Know what to expect for recovery and follow-up
  • Get a second opinion if you have any doubts
  • Share your preferences and concerns to guide decisions
  • Allow time to process information before deciding

Questions to Ask Your Doctor About Surgery

  • What stage is my kidney cancer? Has it spread?
  • What are my treatment options? Do you recommend surgery?
  • Would I have a radical or partial nephrectomy? Why?
  • What surgical approach do you advise – open, laparoscopic or robotic?
  • What are the risks and benefits of this surgery for me?
  • How experienced are you with this specific surgery? What are your outcomes?
  • What can I expect during recovery? How much pain/time off work?
  • Will I need any additional treatment after surgery?

Stay informed and work closely with your medical team to make the best decision for your kidney cancer treatment.

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