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Nephrectomy (kidney removal)

Nephrectomy (nuh-FREK-tuh-me) is a surgical procedure to remove all or part of a kidney:

  • Complete nephrectomy. During a complete (radical) nephrectomy, the surgeon removes the entire kidney.
  • Partial nephrectomy. In a partial nephrectomy, the surgeon removes diseased tissue from a kidney and leaves healthy tissue in place.

A nephrectomy is most often done to treat kidney cancer or to remove a seriously damaged or diseased kidney. The surgeon may perform the procedure through a single large incision in the abdomen or side (open nephrectomy) or through a series of small incisions in the abdomen (laparoscopic nephrectomy).

In a donor nephrectomy, the surgeon removes a healthy kidney for transplant into a person who needs a functioning kidney.


Why it's done Risks How you prepare What you can expect Results

A surgeon performs a nephrectomy either to remove a diseased kidney or to harvest a healthy kidney intended for an organ transplant.

Kidney function

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

Cancer treatment

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.

Donor nephrectomy

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.


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