Surgery is the most common treatment for kidney cancer. It tends to be very successful at treating early stage cancer. Full recovery can take up to 3 months.

The goal of kidney cancer surgery is often to cure the cancer by removing part or all of your kidney. You may also have nearby lymph nodes removed if your doctor thinks the cancer might have spread.

Kidney cancer that has spread to distant tissues is called metastasized cancer. Metastasized kidney cancer is rarely curable, and surgery usually aims to reduce your symptoms and prolong your life.

Read on to learn more about what you can expect after your procedure and during your recovery.

When you wake up in the recovery room or intensive care unit, you’ll likely feel drowsy. You may be receiving oxygen to help you breathe, either through a mask or through tubes inserted into your nose, which are called nasal cannulas. Your abdomen will likely feel sore around your incisions.

You may also be connected to other medical devices, such as:

  • a catheter to help drain urine from your bladder
  • a tube inserted near your wound to collect fluid and blood, which is usually removed within a week
  • an intravenous (IV) line to keep you hydrated and administer pain medications
  • a tube leading from your nose to your stomach to drain fluid
  • a clip on your finger to measure your pulse and blood oxygenation
  • a blood pressure cuff on your arm

Your catheter and IV will likely be removed once you can walk around by yourself.

You’ll be able to start eating and drinking when you feel up to it, starting with liquids such as tea and soup. Most people can eat normally after 2–3 days.

What to expect during your hospital stay

Most people stay in the hospital for 3–5 days, although some can leave in as few as 2 days.

On the day you wake up from your operation, hospital staff will:

  • monitor your vital signs
  • check your wound
  • assess your pain
  • check your urine output
  • teach you deep breathing exercises to prevent infections and blood clots
  • give you an injection of medication to prevent blood clots

Doctors usually recommend getting out of bed as soon as possible after your surgery to reduce your odds of developing a chest infection or a blood clot.

It typically takes about 14 days for your incision to heal, and it may be up to 3 months before you feel fully recovered from your procedure. You’ll likely have pain and need to take pain relievers for about a week.

You may have dissolvable stitches from your procedure, which don’t need to be removed. If you have non-dissolvable stitches, a healthcare professional will remove them after 8–10 days.

You’ll usually have a follow-up appointment about 6 weeks after your procedure.

You’ll likely be given compression socks to wear for about 14 days after your discharge to help prevent blood clots.

It’s a good idea to avoid the following in the first 4–6 weeks of your recovery:

  • lifting anything that weighs more than 10 pounds
  • bending over
  • doing strenuous activities
  • driving

You can support your recovery by:

  • drinking plenty of water
  • eating a generally healthy diet
  • getting plenty of rest
  • increasing your fiber intake if you experience constipation
  • avoiding taking a bath until your incisions are completely healed

Risks of kidney cancer surgery

Although kidney surgery can be lifesaving, it does come with potential risks.

An estimated 2–10% of people experience:

  • bleeding that requires a blood transfusion or another surgery
  • a lung puncture that requires a temporary drainage tube
  • the need for another surgery
  • a chest infection, wound infection, or urinary tract infection

Fewer than 2% of people have:

  • an injury to an organ near the kidney that requires more extensive surgery
  • anesthetic or cardiovascular problems that require admission to the intensive care unit, which can include:

Removal of a kidney also comes with a small risk of death. For people who receive a laparoscopic procedure, the risk is less than 1 in 100.

When to see a doctor

It’s important to contact your medical team if you develop any concerning symptoms, especially chest pain or symptoms that could indicate an infection, such as:

  • fever
  • increased redness
  • heat or yellowish-green discharge coming from your incisions
  • throbbing around the surgery site

Postsurgical pathology results for your kidney will be available 2–3 weeks after your surgery. Your doctor will discuss these findings with you since they will help determine any future treatment decisions.

Surgery can often cure early stage kidney cancer, either on its own or in combination with treatments such as:

About 1 in 3 people have metastatic cancer at the time of diagnosis. Surgery for metastatic kidney cancer can help slow the progression of the disease and reduce your symptoms.

In a 2020 study, researchers reported the following 5-year survival rates after kidney removal:

Stage5-year survival rate
stage 197.4%
stage 289.9%
stage 377.9%
stage 426.7%

These numbers come from an analysis of nearly 90,000 people with the most common type of kidney cancer, renal cell carcinoma, who were treated in the United States from 2004 to 2015. Renal cell carcinoma makes up more than 90% of kidney cancers.

Learn more about kidney cancer stages.

Surgery is used to treat all stages of kidney cancer. It’s often effective at curing early stage kidney cancer, either by itself or when combined with other treatments. It can help slow the progression of metastatic kidney cancer.

You may need up to 3 months to fully recover from your procedure. It’s essential to tell your medical team if you develop symptoms of an infection, such as a fever or heat coming from your incisions.