What is a Partial Nephrectomy?

K T Solis

A partial nephrectomy is a surgical procedure performed to remove only part of a kidney or cancerous tissue located within the kidney. Partial nephrectomies are performed on patients who have a tumor located in this particular organ. Removing only part of the kidney or tissue provides the kidney with a greater chance of functioning normally.

A laparoscopic partial nephrectomy is the most common type of kidney removal surgery.
A laparoscopic partial nephrectomy is the most common type of kidney removal surgery.

Properly functioning kidneys are essential to overall health. The kidneys are responsible for removing toxins and excess fluids from the body. This helps to keep the body's levels of salt, potassium, and acid in harmonious balance.

A partial nephrectomy may allow a patient to avoid dialysis treatment.
A partial nephrectomy may allow a patient to avoid dialysis treatment.

Sometimes, cancer can develop within a kidney. When this occurs, a nephrectomy is necessary. Surgeons consider the age, overall health, and stage of cancer to determine if a full or partial kidney removal is required. In some situations, a patient may even require a radical nephrectomy where the entire kidney, adrenal gland, cancerous tissue, and lymph nodes are removed from the body.

The two major types of partial nephrectomies are open and laparoscopic. An open partial nephrectomy is a procedure where the surgeon makes an incision between the lower section of ribs on the side of the kidney that is cancerous. After making the incision, the surgeon removes a portion of the kidney containing the tumor. He or she will also remove a small amount of surrounding tissue to ensure that no cancerous tissue remains.

A laparoscopic partial nephrectomy is a more popular type of kidney removal procedure. In this procedure, the surgeon makes a smaller incision than the one used for an open partial nephrectomy. Next, the surgeon uses a special piece of equipment that magnifies and illuminates the affected kidney. Using several surgical tools, the surgeon is able to insert them into the tiny incisions to remove cancerous tissue.

In some cases, surgeons employ robotic equipment to perform the laparoscopic procedure. A robotic-assisted partial nephrectomy can reduce scarring, decrease the risk of infection, and allow the patient to recover more quickly. During this type of procedure, the surgeon performs the procedure with the aid of a robotic system.

Receiving a partial nephrectomy can be a protection against the recurrence of cancer in the kidney. It also helps to maintain relatively normal kidney function. Patients can avoid dialysis treatments and kidney transplants, procedures that often are required after undergoing a nephrectomy that removes the entire kidney. If a patient is able to keep part of the kidney, he or she has a greater chance of enjoying better health and a longer life.

A diagram of a kidney.
A diagram of a kidney.

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