A nephrectomy is the surgical removal of one or both kidneys.
The body has two kidneys located just below and behind the liver on the right and below the spleen on the left. The kidneys play a major role in overall health and are responsible for filtering fluid wastes from the bloodstream (urine) and storing the liquid wastes in the bladder until expelled. A kidney damaged by injury, cancer or excessive cysts may need to be removed. If the remaining kidney is healthy, over time it compensates for the missing kidney and resumes its blood filtering function with little to no difficulty.
Donor nephrectomy for transplantation
A donor nephrectomy is when a living donor, usually biologically related, has one kidney removed for transplantation. Success rates for transplanting a kidney from a living-related donor are much higher than when using kidneys from deceased, unrelated donors. Recovery time for the living-related donor is usually swift and complete.
The kidney is removed laparoscopically and then immediately transplanted into the recipient. Recovery time after laparoscopic kidney donation is significantly shorter than after traditional open surgery. Most donors can return to work in as little as two weeks. Through this minimally invasive approach, the donor's discomfort and scarring are also reduced.
Small tumors in the kidney that are suspicious for cancer can sometimes be removed and the remainder of the kidney left behind. This is known as a partial nephrectomy. This is desirable whenever possible, as a healthy partial kidney may have enough function — even as the only kidney — to keep a person off dialysis.