Radical Nephrectomy

A nephrectomy is a surgical procedure for treating a damaged or diseased kidney. A radical nephrectomy is the removal of an entire kidney, along with the associated fat and the lymph nodes. A similar procedure, called a simple nephrectomy, extracts the kidney alone. Procedures of this type are regarded as major surgery. Longer-than-average times are required for both the procedure and the recovery period.

Kidney procedures are used to address a number of medical conditions, including:

  • infections
  • physical injury
  • kidney stone damage
  • cancers
  • the long-term consequences of hypertension 

Nephrectomies are performed by means of open surgery, minimally invasive laparoscopic surgery, and minimally invasive robotic surgery. In a robot-assisted nephrectomy, the medical team uses sophisticated tools that replicate human movement and boost surgical success. Robot-assisted nephrectomies are performed at Baptist Health facilities in Kentucky and Indiana.

Who Is a Candidate for a Robot-assisted Radical Nephrectomy?

Kidney health is critical to human health. The kidneys play a central role in regulating the volume of fluids in the body, as well as eliminating potentially harmful waste products by means of urination. Physicians opt for radical procedures over less-intensive ones when evidence exists for an advanced case of cancer or another serious renal disease. Simple procedures are employed for kidney donations. Laparoscopic and robotic nephrectomies are increasingly common, although, depending on the complexity of the surgery, open procedures are sometimes preferred.

Benefits of Robotic Surgery

It is important to note that a robotic procedure does not mean being operated on by a machine, rather than a fellow human. Robotic procedures are robot-assisted procedures, where the robot is a group of tools used by a surgeon and his or her medical team to aid in an operation. These tools are called robots because they mimic human motions and movements, sometimes with greater precision and less fatigue than we’re capable of.

A robot-assisted nephrectomy is a minimally invasive procedure typically involving three or four minor incisions. The incision for removing the kidney is larger than the others. Robotic surgery offers the following benefits:

  • Smaller incisions than with open surgery, and therefore less blood loss
  • Reduced scarring
  • Lower risk of infection
  • Decreased post-surgical pain
  • Shorter hospital stays
  • Quicker recovery times
  • Faster return to normal living 

How Does a Robot-assisted Radical Nephrectomy Work?

At Baptist Health, robot-assisted radical nephrectomies are performed with the aid of the Intuitive da Vinci system. Intuitive is a leading American manufacturer of medical robots and related equipment.

The Intuitive da Vinci system has three parts:

  • a multi-armed robot for inserting cameras and other surgical instruments in the patient
  • a vision cart with endoscopic monitors that provide the surgeon with magnified, three-dimensional, real-time images of the surgical site within the body
  • a computerized panel from which the surgeon controls the robot and performs the procedure 

A robotic radical nephrectomy is conducted similarly to laparoscopic and other forms of minimally invasive surgery. The surgeon makes tiny incisions for the insertion of a three-dimensional camera – the surgeon’s eyes during the procedure – and other operating instruments for the detachment and removal of the kidney. However, a robot-assisted procedure has the advantage of greater precision than a human operating alone because robot technology downscales the surgeon’s hand motions to extremely fine movements, reducing the possibility of organ or tissue damage.

Joining the surgeon and the robot in the operating room are the entire surgical team, including the anesthesiologist, the nurses, and a second surgeon or surgical assistant for moving the robot into positions that aren’t mechanically controlled. A robot-assisted procedure is typically three to four hours in duration.

What to Expect with a Robot-assisted Radical Nephrectomy

The surgical procedure will take place with you lying on your back. You will be given anesthesia, so that you’ll be unconscious the whole time. An inpatient stay of two to seven days is common following kidney surgery. You will urinate through a catheter until you are released to go home.

Depending on the extent of surgery, you can expect a recovery period of four to 12 weeks at home. To avoid the possibility of blood clots, you should begin light physical activity shortly after your return. Avoid heavy lifting for at least six weeks following the procedure.

You may experience some pain following surgery. This can usually be managed with over-the-counter medications. If your pain is severe, or if you have other serious symptoms, contact your physician immediately. Be sure to schedule a follow-up visit with your physician.

Know Your Risk

Baptist Health is committed to being a leading medical provider of robot-assisted diagnosis and surgery in Kentucky and Southern Indiana. If you have questions or concerns about your kidney or urological health, contact your Baptist Health primary care provider.