Robotic Surgery for Kidney Cancer (Robotic Nephrectomy)

Robotic surgery for kidney cancer at a glance

  • Robotic surgery for kidney cancer, known as a robotic nephrectomy or partial nephrectomy, is a minimally invasive surgery to eradicate cancer cells in one or both of the kidneys.
  • During the procedure, a surgeon controls a robotic device that enhances control and allows more precise movements than the surgeon’s hands, or a conventional laparoscopy, can achieve.
  • Benefits of robotic partial nephrectomy include preservation of the kidney, shorter recovery times and less pain and scarring at the incision site.
  • Robotic surgery of any kind may include risks such as longer than average surgery times, which may require high levels of anesthesia.

What is robotic surgery for kidney cancer?

Robotic surgery to remove kidney cancer is called a robotic nephrectomy and is a type of minimally invasive surgery (MIS) that uses a human-controlled robotic device to achieve complex laparoscopic procedures. About 85 percent of kidney cancers are detected early when they are small and haven’t spread to other parts of the body, which makes removal by robotic surgery a good option.

During a robotic surgery for kidney cancer the surgeon makes several smaller incisions instead of a large incision across the abdomen, as is done in traditional open surgery. Once the incisions are made, a tiny camera is inserted into the abdomen giving the surgeon a video image of the area so he or she is able to control advanced and complex maneuvers to remove tumors and reconstruct the remaining kidney.

In the past, kidney cancer surgery was an open surgery that removed a portion of the kidney (partial nephrectomy), removed the kidney alone (simple nephrectomy), or removed the entire kidney and surrounding tissue (radical nephrectomy). These open procedures left a large scar and were more likely to damage the kidney.

Studies suggest that when an entire kidney is removed the remaining kidney is more likely to develop complications. Because of this, many physicians prefer partial nephrectomy to remove only the cancerous part of the kidney. Although most people can function just fine with one kidney, most surgeons prefer not to remove a kidney if it’s not necessary.

Robotic surgery is most often the preferred way to perform any type of nephrectomy. It is particularly advantageous in partial nephrectomies, when the robotic ability to work in tight areas on small tumors can improve surgical results.

Pacific Urology uses the da Vinci brand of robotic surgery device when performing a robotic nephrectomy. During any robotic surgery procedure the patient rests on a table and the surgeon is at a control panel to operate the robotic device positioned above the patient.

Benefits of robotic surgery for kidney cancer

Robotic surgery can be a better option for patients compared with open surgery or MIS laparoscopy procedures. Benefits include:

  • Preservation of the kidney’s healthy tissue
  • Allows increased access to the kidney which correlates with reduced mortality and possible future renal failure
  • Less time in recovery
  • Decrease in pain and risk of infection or complications
  • Less scarring and loss of blood.

Risks and considerations of robotic surgery for kidney cancer

Keep in mind that robotic surgery comes with similar risks to those of traditional surgery. These include anesthesia reactions, blood clots, damage to organs and tissue, pain, infection and other risks. Robotic surgeries sometimes last longer than traditional surgeries, which mean higher amounts of anesthesia may be required to complete the surgery.

For more information on robotic surgery risks and considerations read the Robotic Surgery overview page.