What to expect after surgery for kidney cancer
After a nephrectomy, you will usually be in hospital for 2–7 days, but it can take 6–12 weeks to fully recover. Your recovery time will depend on the type of surgery you had, your age and general health. Once you are home, you will need to take some precautions.
Drips and tubesWhile in hospital, you will be given fluids and medicines through a tube inserted into a vein (intravenous drip). You will also have other temporary tubes to drain waste fluids away from the operation site.
For a few days, you will most likely have a thin flexible tube inserted in your bladder that is attached to a bag to collect urine. This is called a urinary catheter. Knowing how much urine you are passing helps hospital staff monitor how the remaining kidney is working. When the catheter is removed, you will be able to urinate normally again.
Pain reliefYou will have some pain and discomfort for several days after kidney surgery. This will be managed with pain medicines.
You may be given tablets or injections, or you may have patient-controlled analgesia (PCA), which delivers a measured dose of pain medicine through a drip when you press a button. If you still have pain, let your doctor or nurse know so they can change your medicine as needed.
Blood clotsYou will usually have to wear compression stockings to help the blood in your legs circulate and prevent blood clots developing. Depending on your risk of clotting, you may be given daily injections of a blood-thinning medicine.
Moving aroundYour health care team will probably encourage you to walk the day after the surgery. A physiotherapist may explain how to move safely and show you exercises to do while you are recovering. Doing breathing or coughing exercises can help you avoid developing a chest infection.
It will be some weeks before you can lift heavy things, reach your arms overhead or drive. Ask your doctor how long you should wait before attempting any of these activities or returning to work.
Returning homeWhen you get home, you will need to take things easy and only do what is comfortable. Let your family and friends know that you need to rest a lot and might need some help around the house.
To help your body recover from surgery, try to eat a balanced diet (including proteins such as lean meats and poultry, fish, eggs, milk, yoghurt, nuts, seeds, and legumes such as beans).
Check-upsYou will need to visit your surgeon for a check-up a few weeks after you’ve returned home. You will usually leave the hospital with the details of your appointment. If you haven’t been given an appointment time, check with your surgeon’s rooms.
For more on this, see our general section on Surgery.
Podcast: Making Treatment Decisions
Dr Alarick Picardo, Urologist, Fiona Stanley Hospital, WA; Heidi Castleden, Consumer; Donna Clifford, Urology Nurse Practitioner, Royal Adelaide Hospital, SA; Mike Kingsley, Consumer; Prof Paul De Souza, Medical Oncologist and Professor of Medicine, Nepean Cancer Care Centre, The University of Sydney, NSW; Prof Declan Murphy, Urologist and Director of Genitourinary Oncology, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; Caitriona Nienaber, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council WA; Luke O’Connor, Urology Nurse, Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital, QLD; A/Prof Shankar Siva, Radiation Oncologist and Cancer Council Victoria Colebatch Fellow, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; A/Prof Homi Zargar, Uro-Oncologist and Robotic Surgeon, Western Health and Royal Melbourne Hospital, VIC.
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