A surgeon performs a nephrectomy either to remove a diseased kidney or to harvest a healthy kidney intended for an organ transplant.
Most people have two kidneys — fist-sized organs located near the back of the upper abdomen. Your kidneys:
- Filter wastes and excess fluid and electrolytes from your blood
- Produce urine
- Maintain proper levels of minerals in your bloodstream
- Produce hormones that help regulate your blood pressure and that influence the number of circulating red blood cells
Often, a surgeon performs nephrectomy to remove a cancerous tumor or abnormal tissue growth in a kidney. The most common kidney cancer in adults, renal cell carcinoma, begins in the cells that line the small tubes within your kidneys. Children are more likely to develop a type of kidney cancer called Wilms' tumor, probably caused by the poor development of kidney cells.
The decision about how much kidney tissue to remove depends on:
- Whether a tumor is confined to the kidney
- Whether there is more than one tumor
- How much of the kidney is affected
- Whether the cancer affects nearby tissue
- How well the other kidney functions
The surgeon makes a decision based on the results of imaging tests, which may include:
- Ultrasound, an image of soft tissues produced with the use of sound waves
- Computerized tomography (CT), a specialized X-ray technology that produces images of thin cross-sectional views of soft tissues
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), which uses a magnetic field and radio waves to produce cross-sectional views or 3-D images
Treatment for other conditions
A partial or radical nephrectomy may be needed to remove severely damaged, scarred or nonfunctioning kidney tissue due to traumatic injury or other diseases.
A healthy person with good kidney function and a low risk of certain disorders, such as high blood pressure or diabetes, is a good candidate for donating a kidney to someone who needs a transplant. A transplant recipient who receives a kidney from a living donor has a better chance of survival than a person who receives a kidney from a deceased donor.