Dr. med. Dirk Manski

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Open Radical Nephrectomy: Surgical Technique and Complications

Indications for Radical Nephrectomy

Radical nephrectomy is the gold standard for treating large renal cell carcinomas if partial nephrectomy is not feasible. Radical nephrectomy removes the kidney with the perirenal fat and regional lymph nodes. The transperitoneal approach allows early control of the renal vessels, propagated by Robson (Robson et al., 1969). This dogma has never been studied prospectively, and many authors doubt its clinical significance (Mickisch et al., 2002). Accepted technical approaches of nephrectomy are transperitoneal, lumbar (flank incision), thoracoabdominal, laparoscopic, or retroperitoneoscopic depending on the size and localization of the tumor.

Radical nephrectomy with infrahepatic tumor thrombus resection: after clamping the vena cava and contralateral renal vein, the vena cava is opened, and tumor thrombus extraction is possible. The defect of the inferior vena cava is closed with a double-row running suture.
figure radical nephrectomy with infrahepatic tumor thrombus resection

Contraindications for Radical Nephrectomy

Coagulation disorders. Do not perform radical nephrectomy if partial nephrectomy is technically possible, especially in patients with single kidneys, chronic kidney disease, bilateral renal cell cancer, or hereditary renal cell cancer. The other contraindications depend on the surgical risk due to the patient's comorbidity, the renal function of the contralateral kidney, and the surgical procedure's impact on the patient's life expectancy.

Surgical Technique

Preoperative patient preparation:

Transperitoneal approach:

Flank approach:

Lateral decubitus position of the patient for a flank incision, the operation room table is flexed. The dissection is done between the 11th and 12th rib to spare the subcostal nerve. Open the renal fascia. Blunt dissection of the layer between perirenal fat and the psoas muscle is done. The peritoneum is dissected of the ventral portion of the capsula adiposa until the renal vein is identified. On the right side, the duodenum has to be dissected of the vena cava (Kocher maneuver).

Hilar preparation:

Mobilization of the kidney:

The kidney is mobilized outside the renal fascia. The adrenal gland is separated from the adipose capsule and left in situ using blunt and sharp dissection. An adrenalectomy is necessary if large tumors of the upper kidney pole may invade the adrenal gland or if metastases are present in imaging.

Management of venous tumor thrombus:

The complete kidney has to be mobilized and the renal artery is divided or ligated to stop renal blood flow. Small thrombi of the renal vein or vena cava do not require any special measures: the renal vein ostium is clamped with a Satinsky clamp. The renal vein ostium is incised, and a thrombectomy is done first, followed by the nephrectomy. The defect of the vena cava is closed with a double-row running suture.

Management of infrahepatic tumor thrombi:

Careful mobilization of the vena cava, both renal veins and the suprarenal and infrarenal vena cava are secured with vessel loops. Proximal and distal to the tumor thrombus, the vena cava is clamped using Satinsky clamps. The contralateral renal vein is clamped. Visible lumbar veins are clipped. The vena cava is opened (by circumcising the renal vein ostium), and the tumor thrombus is extracted [figure infrahepatic tumor thrombus resection]. The defect of the vena cava is closed with a double-row running suture after nephrectomy. If the tumor thrombus invades the wall of the vena cava, resection of the caval wall and reconstruction of the IVC are necessary.

Management of intrahepatic and suprahepatic tumor thrombi:

Intrahepatic tumor thrombi may be resected while the suprahepatic vena cava inferior and the porta hepatis are clamped. If the tumor thrombus extends into the right atrium, the use of a cardiopulmonary bypass is inevitable. The operation should be performed with the help of visceral and/or cardiac surgeons depending on the cranial extension of the tumor thrombus.

Regional lymphadenectomy:

Lymphadenectomy is not necessary for T1–2 tumors without suspicious lymph node enlargement since a large EORTC study demonstrated no survival benefit (Blom et al., 1999 and 2009). Some authors advocate, on the basis of retrospective studies, a lymphadenectomy if advanced tumors or enlarged lymph nodes are present. Lymphadenectomy is recommended from the crus of the diaphragm to the aortic bifurcation. For left-sided tumors, the para-aortic lymph nodes are removed; for right-sided tumors, the paracaval lymph nodes are removed. Regardless of the side, the interaortocaval lymph nodes should be removed (Capitanio et al., 2011).


Drainage of the retroperitoneum is often performed, but it is probably not necessary after an uncomplicated radical nephrectomy.

Postoperative Care after Radical Nephrectomy

General measures:


Analgesics with a combination of NSAIDs and opioids. Peridural anesthesia facilitates postoperative pain management.

Diet advancement:

Remove the nasogastric tube after surgery. Allow small sips of clear liquids after surgery. Increase clear liquids and allow yogurt or pudding on postoperative days 1 and 2. If the patient feels well, allow small amounts of solid food (appetite-driven) starting postoperative day 3.

Drains and catheters:

Quick removal of the bladder catheter after uneventful surgery for stable patients within 1–2 days, wound drainage (often not necessary) for 1–2 days.

Complications of Radical Nephrectomy

Complications of radical nephrectomy for cT1--2 tumors can be seen in the table complications of radical and partial nephrectomy; the data is from randomized and retrospective studies.

Complications of radical and partial nephrectomy for cT1--2 tumors: (Corman et al., 2000) (Poppel et al., 2007).
Complication Radical nephrectomy Partial nephrectomy
Significant hemorrhage 1,1 % 3,4 %
Hemorrhage <0,5 l 96 % 87 %
Urinoma 0 % 4 %
Reintervention 2,4 % 4,4 %
Mortality 2 % 1,6 %

Risk of significant hemorrhage:

The risk of significant blood loss during radical nephrectomy is below 5%; the risk increases up to 35% if a tumor thrombus is present.

Injury of neighboring organs:

Liver injury, spleen injury (risk of splenectomy), paralytic ileus, injury of the bowel, peritonitis, injury of the pancreatic tail with fistula, pneumothorax, chylous fistula due to injury of intestinal lymphatic vessels.

General complications:

Wound infection, heart attack, stroke, heart failure, thrombosis, pulmonary embolism, atelectasis, pneumonia, acute renal failure.


Mortality due to bleeding, cardiovascular diseases, arrhythmia, acute renal failure, and pulmonary embolism is around 2%.

Index: 1–9 A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z


Blom u.a. 1999 BLOM, J. H. ; POPPEL, H. van ; MARECHAL, J. M. ; JACQMIN, D. ; SYLVESTER, R. ; SCHRODER, F. H. ; PRIJCK, L. de: Radical nephrectomy with and without lymph node dissection: preliminary results of the EORTC randomized phase III protocol 30881. EORTC Genitourinary Group.
In: Eur Urol
36 (1999), Nr. 6, S. 570–5

Blom, Jan H M; van Poppel, Hein; Maréchal, Jean M; Jacqmin, Didier; Schröder, Fritz H; de Prijck, Linda; Sylvester, Richard & E. O. R. T. C. Genitourinary Tract Cancer Group Radical nephrectomy with and without lymph-node dissection: final results of European Organization for Research and Treatment of Cancer (EORTC) randomized phase 3 trial 30881.
Eur Urol, 2009, 55, 28-34.

Capitanio, U.; Becker, F.; Blute, M. L.; Mulders, P.; Patard, J.; Russo, P.; Studer, U. E. & Poppel, H. V. Lymph node dissection in renal cell carcinoma.
Eur Urol, 2011, 60, 1212-1220.

Corman u.a. 2000 CORMAN, J. M. ; PENSON, D. F. ; HUR, K. ; KHURI, S. F. ; DALEY, J. ; HENDERSON, W. ; KRIEGER, J. N.: Comparison of complications after radical and partial nephrectomy: results from the National Veterans Administration Surgical Quality Improvement Program.
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Mickisch 2002 MICKISCH, G. H.: Principles of nephrectomy for malignant disease.
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Poppel u.a. 2007 POPPEL, Hendrik V. ; POZZO, Luigi D. ; ALBRECHT, Walter ; MATVEEV, Vsevolod ; BONO, Aldo ; BORKOWSKI, Andrzej ; MARECHAL, Jean-Marie ; KLOTZ, Laurence ; SKINNER, Eila ; KEANE, Thomas ; CLAESSENS, Ilse ; SYLVESTER, Richard ; RESEARCH for the European Organization for ; CANCER (EORTC), Treatment of ; CANADA CLINICAL TRIALS GROUP (NCIC CTG), National Cancer I. of ; (SWOG), Southwest Oncology G. ; EASTERN COOPERATIVE ONCOLOGY GROUP (ECOG) the: A prospective randomized EORTC intergroup phase 3 study comparing the complications of elective Nephron-sparing surgery and radical nephrectomy for low-stage renal cell carcinoma.
In: Eur Urol
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Robson u.a. 1969 ROBSON, C. J. ; CHURCHILL, B. M. ; ANDERSON, W.: The results of radical nephrectomy for renal cell carcinoma.
In: J Urol
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Robson u.a. 2002 ROBSON, C. J. ; CHURCHILL, B. M. ; ANDERSON, W.: The results of radical nephrectomy for renal cell carcinoma. 1969.
In: J Urol
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  Deutsche Version: Technik und Komplikationen der offen-chirurgischen Tumornephrektomie