Robotic Kidney Surgery FAQ

Questions about kidney cancer diagnosis and treatment

Q: I had a CT scan or MRI which said that I have a kidney tumor. How do I know if it could be a cancer?
A: Most kidney tumors are cancers, but generally speaking, smaller tumors have a larger chance of being benign. Often times, benign tumors still should be removed as they may grow and result in a larger surgery in the future.

Q: Should I have a needle biopsy of the tumor by a radiologist prior to surgery for tumor removal?
A: Traditionally, biopsies have rarely been performed for kidney tumors due to the perceived risk of bleeding, tumor spread, and a false diagnosis of the tumor being benign when it is really a cancer. However, technology has improved and there is emerging evidence to suggest that a biopsy is relatively safe and accurate and may influence management in select cases. Henry Ford offers renal biopsy for select patients. Once the tumor is removed from your body, then the pathologist will do a formal evaluation to see what kind of tumor it is.

Q: Are kidney cysts cancerous?
A: Some are, but most aren't. If a kidney cyst is "complex" looking on a CT scan, MRI or ultrasound, then it may be cancerous. Usually simple cysts do not need to be treated. Complex cysts may need to be removed.

Q: If my cancer has spread should I still have my kidney removed?
A: There is some evidence that removing the primary cancer in the kidney can extend the life of patients with metastatic kidney cancer. An evaluation needs to be made to see how risky the surgery would be. It may be best to have a minimally-invasive removal if possible to limit recovery time.

Q: What is my chance of curing my cancer?
A: Most kidney cancers are cured with surgical removal alone. If the cancer has spread, it is difficult to cure. Routine x-rays are performed to see if the cancer has spread.

Questions about robotic kidney surgery

Q: How are kidney tumors removed?
A: Traditionally, a large incision was made through all the muscles on one's side, and the kidney was removed. Alternatively, just the tumor was removed through this large incision and part of the kidney was left behind. These large open surgeries are rapidly being replaced by minimally-invasive surgeries using robots and laparoscopes. In the modern era, large and painful open surgeries with large incisions are not necessary in most patients. These surgeries can be performed robotically with the same results, smaller incisions, less pain and much less recovery time.

Q: Why should I have a partial nephrectomy instead of a total kidney removal?
A: Partial nephrectomy for small tumors allows the patient to preserve part of the kidney and still get rid of the cancer or tumor. One advantage is the patient keeps most of the kidney and often maintains better overall kidney function.

Q: What questions should I ask to my surgeon prior to having my kidney surgery?
A: Here are some recommended questions for your surgeon.

  • Can this be done robotically? Most kidney tumors can be removed robotically with the same outcomes as open surgery. The robotic approach allows a quicker recovery time and significantly less pain.
  • Can I have a robotic partial nephrectomy instead of total removal or open surgery? Our staff uses robotic assistance to successfully perform partial nephrectomy for very complex tumors, including larger tumors, tumors deep within the kidney, and tumors next to the crucial vessels that supply blood to the kidney. With robotic assistance, an open partial nephrectomy or a total nephrectomy may not be necessary even for these complex tumors.
  • What formal training do you have in robotic and laparoscopic surgery? VUI surgeons are world leaders in robotic surgery, having performed more robotic prostatectomies than any other center in the world. The VUI kidney team includes staff with fellowship training in advanced robotic and laparoscopic kidney surgery. This level of training is very rare among surgeons.
  • How many of these do you do a year/month/week? At Henry Ford Hospital, we perform kidney surgery daily-weekly and do more than 100 surgeries per year.
  • If you have to open me up, are you experienced in open kidney surgery also? Yes. Most urologists are trained in open kidney surgery. We can offer robotic, laparoscopic, and open surgery for kidney cancer.

Q: If I have surgery at Henry Ford, will insurance cover it?
A: In most cases, yes, insurance will cover the surgery. We will also check on our end. We would need a copy of your insurance card.

Questions about surgery follow-up

Q: What is the recovery process after robot-assisted kidney cancer surgery?
A: You’ll usually stay in the hospital for about 48 hours after your surgery. You’ll have four to six small incisions covered by small bandages. You may be able to remove these bandages before you go home. Once you go home, we’ll make an appointment to see you in our clinic two to three weeks after surgery. You should be able to return to light work duties by then. You’ll need to wait about four weeks after surgery to resume more strenuous work and exercise.

Q: How long it will take to get my pathology report after surgery?
A: The pathologists at Henry Ford Hospital will examine your tumor and remark on whether or not it is cancer and what type of cancer it is. The report takes several days to produce, as the specimen is processed and examined closely under the microscope. All relevant reports will be forwarded to your local physicians and to you.

Q: What sort of follow-up will I need after surgery?
A: Usually just x-rays and some blood work. These can be done by a primary physician, a urologist at home or you can come to Henry Ford Hospital for these tests. We will work closely with your physicians at home or see you here.

Q: Will I need any radiation or chemotherapy?
A: Usually not. These treatments are largely ineffective for kidney cancer, and surgery is the mainstay of treatment. Some patients with cancer that has spread out of the kidney benefit from additional therapies. If you need these therapies, we may recommend that you see a medical oncologist after you recover. In most cases, however, kidney cancers are localized to the kidney and frequently cured by removal of the tumor or the kidney.

Q: After my kidney cancer is removed, what kind of follow-up is needed?
A: Usually patients need some routine x-rays (chest x-ray and/or a test such as a CAT scan or MRI). Routine blood work to check your remaining kidney's function is also recommended. These tests can be performed at Henry Ford Hospital or by a local physician or urologist if travel to Detroit is not ideal.

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