Nephrectomy

What Is It?

A nephrectomy is the surgical removal of a kidney, the organ that filters waste from the blood and produces urine. There are two kidneys, right and left. Each is about 4 inches to 5 inches long. They are located at the back of the abdomen, just below the diaphragm, behind the liver on the right, and the spleen on the left. A portion of each kidney is protected by the lowest one or two ribs and by the muscles that cover the back and side of the body. Depending on the reason for a nephrectomy, all or part of one kidney or both kidneys will be removed:

  • Partial nephrectomy – Part of one kidney is removed.

  • Simple nephrectomy – All of one kidney is removed.

  • Radical nephrectomy – All of one kidney is removed together with the neighboring adrenal gland (the adrenaline-producing gland that sits on top of the kidney) and neighboring lymph nodes.

  • Bilateral nephrectomy – Both kidneys are removed.

A nephrectomy can be done by conventional open surgery. For a simple nephrectomy, laparoscopic surgery is also available at a growing number of medical centers.

In a conventional open nephrectomy, the surgeon removes the kidney through a standard incision (surgical cut) between 8 and 12 inches long. When possible, this incision is made in the side of the body to allow the surgeon access to the kidney while only minimally disturbing the abdominal organs. However, depending on the reason for the nephrectomy and the health of the patient, an incision may be made in the front of the abdomen or in the back.

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