Robotic Kidney Surgery

Many kidney cancers can be cured with surgery

If you have kidney cancer, you have several different treatment options available. You and your doctor will discuss your options and decide which one is right for you. 

Robotic-assisted surgery is our main treatment for kidney cancer, and malignant and benign kidney tumors caused by von Hippel-Lindau syndrome. We’re able to perform safe and effective robotic procedures for even complex cases — often sparing the kidney.

Advantages of robotic kidney surgery

Traditional kidney surgery for patients with kidney cancer is an “open” procedure. This means the surgeon creates a large incision and may even need to remove a rib to access the kidney. Both of these can be very painful.

With robotic kidney surgery, we insert tiny instruments and a camera through keyhole incisions. 

Robotic surgery requires only a few small incisions. Other benefits include:

  • Smaller incisions, less scarring and faster healing
  • Decreased risk of injury to the bowel or other nearby organs
  • Faster return of bowel function after surgery
  • Fewer complications
  • Less blood loss
  • Less pain and reduced need for pain medication
  • Quicker return to normal activity and work (2-3 weeks for full recovery)
  • Shorter hospital stay (usually 1-2 days)

We offer several types of robotic kidney cancer surgery. Your doctor can help you decide which procedure is the best option for you.

Minds of Medicine

Two brother made the decision to receive robotic kidney surgery, a procedure that is less invasive, saves the kidney when possible, and gets patients out of the hospital within a few days.

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My Robotic Partial Nephrectomy

Dr. Craig Rogers and John MacInnis talk about John's kidney surgery and his life since the surgery.


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Types of kidney surgery

  • Robotic Partial Nephrectomy

    A partial nephrectomy, also known as a renal-sparing surgery, removes the tumor while preserving the normal and unaffected portion of the kidney. 

    Today, most kidney cancer patients have tumors that can be treated with a kidney-sparing approach. Our surgeons are among the most experienced in the world in performing this complex operation using advanced robotic technology for a minimally invasive approach.

    Advantages of partial nephrectomy

    • Reduced chance of long-term kidney failure
    • Better overall kidney function
    • Preservation of the affected kidney as a backup, in case something happens to the other kidney.
    • When performed by an experienced surgeon, this treatment option does not increase the chance of recurrence (the cancer coming back). 

    How robotic partial nephrectomy works

    Robotic partial nephrectomy is performed with a surgical robot using tiny keyhole incisions in the body. The robotic surgical instruments and a camera are inserted through these incisions to perform the surgery. 

    With a robotic partial nephrectomy:

    • The kidney is identified and released from its surrounding structures. The surgeon then identifies the blood vessels going to the kidney and the tumor.
    • Using special vascular clamps, blood flow to the kidney is stopped. This is necessary in most cases, as the kidney will otherwise bleed if the blood flow is not temporarily stopped to the kidney.
    • The entire tumor is cut out of the kidney.
    • The kidney is reconstructed. Reconstruction is necessary to prevent bleeding after tumor removal. A variety of methods are used to reconstruct the kidney and sew it back together.
    • After the kidney is reconstructed, blood flow to the kidney is restored by removing the vascular clamps.
    • The kidneys are inspected to ensure there is no bleeding from where the kidney was cut. Generally, the tumor is removed from the body through one of the laparoscopic incisions. 

    This is a complex surgery. In some cases, patients may have a higher chance of postoperative complication from a robotic partial nephrectomy than a robotic radical nephrectomy. 

  • Robotic Radical Nephrectomy

    This procedure completely removes the entire kidney, and is necessary for some patients with more advanced tumors. The remaining kidney usually provides adequate function without the risk of failure or dialysis in the future, if it’s healthy. Sometimes the adrenal gland and fatty tissue surrounding the kidney also need to be taken out.

    The procedure may also be performed for kidneys that no longer function.

    How robotic radical nephrectomy works

    Robotic radical nephrectomy is performed with a surgical robot using tiny keyhole incisions in the body. The robotic surgical instruments and a camera are inserted through these incisions to perform the surgery. 

    With a robotic radical nephrectomy:

    • The abdomen is flattened with gas and the colon is moved away from the kidney. The kidney normally has a covering of fat around it; this fat is left on the kidney so the cancer or tumor is not exposed. 
    • After the kidney is dissected, the blood vessels going to the kidney are located. The kidney normally has one artery bringing blood to the kidney and one vein exiting the kidney, bringing blood back to the body. In some cases, there are more than one artery and vein. This is not considered abnormal, but it is less common. When the artery and vein are identified, they are clipped, or ligated, to cut off blood flow to the kidney.
    • Once the blood vessels are divided, the rest of the kidney is removed from its attachments to the liver or spleen, back muscles and the adrenal gland. In some cases, the adrenal gland is removed with the kidney.
    • The kidney is then removed from the body through a small incision.
    • The incisions are closed and the patient is taken to the recovery room.
  • Robotic-Assisted Nephroureterectomy
    Robotic-assisted nephrourecterectomy is a minimally procedure for urothelial cancer, which affects both the inner lining of the kidney and/or the ureter, so both are removed.
  • Total Kidney Removal Through Open Surgery

    While most patients treated at Henry Ford are candidates for partial nephrectomy (kidney-sparring surgery) some patients may require a radical nephrectomy (removal of the kidney). A radical nephrectomy through open surgery is the traditional standard treatment for kidney cancer.

    This operation removes the entire kidney, and often removal of the nearby adrenal gland and the fatty tissue around the kidney. 

    Nearly all patients who require radical nephrectomy today can undergo this procedure using a minimally invasive approach.

    Radical nephrectomy with removal of the entire kidney has no long-term impact on a patient’s kidney function. The remaining kidney can compensate and sufficiently function independently without a risk for future kidney failure or dialysis.

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