Kidney removal, or nephrectomy, is surgery to remove all or part of a kidney. It may involve:
- Part of one kidney removed (partial nephrectomy).
- All of one kidney removed (simple nephrectomy).
- Removal of one entire kidney, surrounding fat, and the adrenal gland (radical nephrectomy). In these cases, neighboring lymph nodes are sometimes removed.
This surgery is done in the hospital while you are asleep and pain-free (general anesthesia). The procedure can take 3 or more hours.
Simple nephrectomy or open kidney removal:
- You will be lying on your side. Your surgeon will make an incision (cut) up to 12 inches or 30 centimeters (cm) long. This cut will be on your side, just below the ribs or right over the lowest ribs.
- Muscle, fat, and tissue are cut and moved. Your surgeon may need to remove a rib to do the procedure.
- The tube that carries urine from the kidney to the bladder (ureter) and blood vessels are cut away from the kidney. The kidney is then removed.
- Sometimes, just a part of the kidney may be removed (partial nephrectomy).
- The cut is then closed with stitches or staples.
Radical nephrectomy or open kidney removal:
- Your surgeon will make a cut about 8 to 12 inches (20 to 30 cm) long. This cut will be on the front of your belly, just below your ribs. It may also be done through your side.
- Muscle, fat, and tissue are cut and moved. The tube that carries urine from the kidney to the bladder (ureter) and blood vessels are cut away from the kidney. The kidney is then removed.
- Your surgeon will also take out the surrounding fat, and sometimes the adrenal gland and some lymph nodes.
- The cut is then closed with stitches or staples.
Laparoscopic kidney removal:
- Your surgeon will make 3 or 4 small cuts, most often no more than 1 inch (2.5 cm) each, in your belly and side. The surgeon will use tiny probes and a camera to do the surgery.
- Towards the end of the procedure, your surgeon will make one of the cuts larger (about 4 inches or 10 cm) to take out the kidney.
- The surgeon will cut the ureter, place a bag around the kidney, and pull it through the larger cut.
- This surgery may take longer than an open kidney removal. However, most people recover faster and feel less pain after this type of surgery when compared to the pain and recovery period following open surgery.
Sometimes, your surgeon may make a cut in a different place than described above.
Some hospitals and medical centers are doing this surgery using robotic tools.
Why the Procedure is Performed
Kidney removal may be recommended for:
- Someone donating a kidney
- Birth defects
- Kidney cancer or suspected kidney cancer
- A kidney damaged by infection, kidney stones, or other problems
- To help control high blood pressure in someone who has problems with the blood supply to their kidney
- Very bad injury (trauma) to the kidney that cannot be repaired
Risks of any surgery are:
- Blood clots in the legs that may travel to the lungs
- Breathing problems
- Infection, including in the surgical wound, lungs (pneumonia), bladder, or kidney
- Blood loss
- Heart attack or stroke during surgery
- Reactions to medicines
Risks of this procedure are:
- Injury to other organs or structures
- Kidney failure in the remaining kidney
- After one kidney is removed, your other kidney may not work as well for awhile
- Hernia of your surgical wound
Before the Procedure
Always tell your health care provider:
- If you could be pregnant
- What drugs you are taking, even drugs, supplements, vitamins, or herbs you bought without a prescription
During the days before the surgery:
- You will have blood samples taken in case you need a blood transfusion.
- You may be asked to stop taking aspirin, ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), naproxen (Aleve, Naprosyn), Clopidogrel (Plavix), warfarin (Coumadin), and other blood thinners.
- Ask your provider which drugs you should still take on the day of the surgery.
- Do not smoke. This will help you to recover quicker.
On the day of the surgery:
- You will most often be asked not to drink or eat anything after midnight the night before the surgery.
- Take the drugs as you have been told, with a small sip of water.
- You will be told when to arrive at the hospital.
After the Procedure
You will stay in the hospital for 1 to 7 days, depending on the type of surgery you have. During a hospital stay, you may:
- Be asked to sit on the side of the bed and walk on the same day of your surgery
- Have a tube or catheter that comes from your bladder
- Have a drain that comes out through your surgical cut
- Not be able to eat the first 1 to 3 days, and then you will begin with liquids
- Be encouraged to do breathing exercises
- Wear special stockings, compression boots, or both to prevent blood clots
- Receive shots under your skin to prevent blood clots
- Receive pain medicine into your veins or pills
Recovering from open surgery may be painful because of where the surgical cut is located. Recovery after a laparoscopic procedure is most often quicker with less pain.
The outcome is most often good when a single kidney is removed. If both kidneys are removed, or the remaining kidney does not work well enough, you will need dialysis or a kidney transplant.
Nephrectomy; Simple nephrectomy; Radical nephrectomy; Open nephrectomy; Laparoscopic nephrectomy; Partial nephrectomy
Moreira DM, Kavoussi LR. Laparoscopic and robotic surgery of the kidney. In: Partin AW, Domochowski RR, Kavoussi LR, Peters CA, eds. Campbell-Walsh-Wein Urology. 12th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2021:chap 102.
Olumi AF, Blute ML. Open surgery of the kidney. In: Partin AW, Domochowski RR, Kavoussi LR, Peters CA, eds. Campbell-Walsh-Wein Urology. 12th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2021:chap 101.
Weiss RH, Jaimes EA, Hu SL. Kidney cancer. In: Yu ASL, Chertow GM, Luyckx VA, Marsden PA, Skorecki K, Taal MW, eds. Brenner and Rector's The Kidney. 11th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 41.
Review Date 1/1/2023
Updated by: Kelly L. Stratton, MD, FACS, Associate Professor, Department of Urology, University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center, Oklahoma City, OK. Also reviewed by David C. Dugdale, MD, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.