Many Affected by Kidney Cancer Are Not Informed about Kidney-Sparing Surgery Option

Pictured: Paul Russo

Kidney surgeon Paul Russo

Surgery is the most common form of treatment for kidney tumors and often the only treatment necessary to achieve a cure. However, a recent survey led by investigators at Memorial Sloan Kettering and the National Kidney Foundation has found that many patients with small kidney tumors are not told that a kidney-sparing surgery called partial nephrectomy can save their lives while preserving kidney function.

Partial nephrectomy is a procedure in which the surgeon carefully removes only the tumor while preserving the majority of the kidney. In contrast, radical nephrectomy is an operation in which the surgeon removes the entire kidney and its surrounding tissue.

Radical nephrectomy is required for massive kidney tumors that have replaced most of the healthy kidney, but the procedure can increase a patient’s risk of developing chronic kidney disease and subsequent cardiovascular complications.

“Physicians, patients, and caregivers alike need to be better educated about kidney-sparing strategies and the consequences of radical nephrectomy for small kidney tumors,” said Dr. Russo. “This will help patients make the most informed treatment decision for both their cancer and long-term health, and possibly avoid the complications of chronic kidney disease.”

Low Awareness of Treatment Options

Memorial Sloan Kettering kidney surgeon Paul Russo surveyed 365 people with kidney cancer and 52 caregivers about their understanding of kidney-sparing surgical options and the risk factors for chronic kidney disease. Findings from this survey were published online on March 25 in the National Kidney Foundation’s American Journal of Kidney Diseases.

Dr. Russo and his team found that more than a quarter of the patients said they were not told about partial nephrectomy, its benefits, and whether they were a candidate for such an operation. As a result, less than 20 percent of those kidney cancer patients with early-stage kidney tumors underwent a partial nephrectomy, while 80 percent had their entire kidney removed. Patients who underwent radical nephrectomy were also unaware of their risk for developing or worsening chronic kidney disease.

At Memorial Sloan Kettering, more than 90 percent of patients with small kidney tumors are treated with partial nephrectomy. Dr. Russo and his team also promote active surveillance as an approach for small renal tumors in the elderly and patients with other health complications. In these patients, the risks associated with surgical intervention and hospitalization are far greater than the risks of significant tumor progression or spread in their lifetimes.

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Better Education Needed

Memorial Sloan Kettering surgeons have been instrumental in pioneering research to define the optimal treatment for kidney tumors. They have found that in nearly half the patients with small kidney tumors, the tumors are indolent or benign, with little or no potential to spread to other parts of the body.

Studies conducted here and at other institutions have demonstrated that in patients with small kidney tumors, partial nephrectomy is as effective as radical nephrectomy at controlling cancer, while preserving kidney function and preventing the complications of chronic kidney disease.

About 70 percent of patients diagnosed with kidney cancer each year have a kidney tumor that is considered small, making those patients candidates for this procedure. And nearly one-third of patients with kidney cancer already have evidence of preexisting chronic kidney disease, which can be made worse by radical nephrectomy.

Dr. Russo and his team perform more than 300 partial nephrectomies per year and have expanded their kidney-sparing surgical program to include larger tumors and those located deep inside the kidney or adjacent to critical blood vessels. Their research data indicates that just as with smaller tumors, partial nephrectomy in these more complicated cases is as effective as radical nephrectomy at controlling cancer, with the added benefit of preserving kidney function.

According to Dr. Russo, “Treatment at a high-volume hospital with a robust multidisciplinary research team is a definite advantage for patients with kidney tumors.”

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This research was supported by funding from Pfizer.


Commenting is disabled for this blog post.

I need an appointment with Dr. Russo ASAP.

Hi, my father is 85 years old. His doctor did an abdominal CAT SCAN and found a small mass: 5cms on the right kidney. He had bypass surgery. He has diabetes under control and had prostate surgery 20 years ago. He is feeling fine right now. Do you think active surveillance would be a good approach for him? Surgery for a patient his age we think is to risky. What is your oppinion?
Thanks for your help,

Dear Eduardo, unfortunately, we cannot answer personal medical questions on our blog. If you’d like to make an appointment for your father with one of our doctors, please call 800-525-2225. You can also find out more about making an appointment here: Thank you for your comment, and we wish you and your family all the best.

I had a partial nephrectomy done by Dr. Russo in June,2013. Since then I have returned to Sloan and Dr. Russo for my 6 month and 1 year follow up and testing visits. Thank God that all tests have come back normal up to this point and have been feeling great,resuming my everyday activities for quite some time now. Dr Russo is an expert in this field and from my consultation through my surgery, I had full faith and confidence in him and his staff. He is a complete professional and a caring person and I am thankful every day for his service and compassion.

11 years ago my son had cancer kidney removed and about 2 yrs ago developed leukoytosis (spelling?) and taking gleevac with good test results but now reports that cancer on other kidney, large mass on liver, lymphnodes in lungs and cells spreading thru body... would going to your cancer hospital be of any benefit to him...any help at all??? any treatments available at this stage of cancer to prolong his life or to keep cancer from spreading further? Thank you for any comments....

Dear Dorothy, we are sorry to hear about your son. We cannot provide personal medical advice on our blog. However, if he would like to make an appointment with one of our specialists for a consultation regarding his treatment options, please ask him to call our Physician Referral Service at 800-525-2225. Thank you for reaching out to us.