Most kidney cancers are now found incidentally during investigations such as ultrasound or CT scans for other conditions. Because of earlier diagnosis most cancers are small and are amenable to a partial nephrectomy or nephron sparing surgery (NSS).
The most common kidney cancer is a clear cell renal cell carcinoma (RCC). It begins in the lining of the renal tubules in the kidney. The renal tubules filter the blood and produce urine. Most RCC are sporadic and most patients do not have a family history.
Another type of cancer, transitional cell carcinoma (TCC), affects the inner lining of the renal pelvis, ureter and bladder. The major risk factor for the development of TCC is cigarette smoking. If a TCC is found in the kidney or ureter, a nephro-ureterectomy (removal of affected kidney and ureter) is generally performed.
For small tumours (<7 cm) a minimally invasive laparoscopic or Da Vinci robotic partial nephrectomy can be performed in some cases. The aim of this operation is to excise the tumour with clear margins and preserve the rest of the unaffected kidney to maximize functioning nephrons. The benefits of Da Vinci robotic laparoscopic partial nephrectomy are smaller incisions, therefore less post-operative pain and narcotic analgesia requirement, faster recovery, shorter hospitalization, improved cosmesis, less blood loss and blood transfusions.