This High-Tech Surgical Method Is Transforming Kidney Cancer Treatment

High-tech surgical methods are improving kidney cancer survival rates and decreasing the chance of kidney failure.

Kidney cancer is among the top 10 most common cancers in both men and women. Keck Medicine of USC urologists are dedicated to developing new treatment methods using robotic and laparoscopic minimally invasive surgery to redefine their field and save patient’s kidneys. These techniques, combined with percutaneous and open surgery, account for 3,500 clinical cases performed by our urologists — which is among the highest number of cases performed in the world.

We reached out to Andre K. Berger, MD, assistant professor of clinical urology at the USC Institute of Urology of Keck Medicine of USC to learn more about this deadly disease.

The symptoms of kidney cancer

Most cases of kidney cancer are discovered in people over age 50. Many times, there are no symptoms. It’s not uncommon for kidney cancer to be found incidentally when a patient is having imaging performed for an entirely different condition.

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When symptoms occur, they can include:

  • Blood in your urine
  • Lower back /abdominal pain
  • Weight loss
  • Anemia and/or fatigue

Risk Factors

Smoking and obesity are risk factors for developing renal cell carcinoma, the most common type of kidney cancer.

Some patients are at increased risk for developing kidney cancer, including those with certain hereditary disorders. If patients have any of the below syndromes, they should be monitored for any abnormal growths on their kidneys.

  • Von Hippel-Lindau (VHL)
  • Tuberous Sclerosis
  • Birt Hogg Dube Syndrome

Diagnosing kidney cancer

If your doctor suspects kidney cancer, you’ll undergo a CT scan or MRI to detect abnormalities in the kidneys. If a mass is found, a biopsy can determine the nature of the mass, and additional tests will identify the stage of cancer.

Treating kidney cancer

Kidney cancer is fairly resistant to radiation and chemotherapy so physicians typically have to make a large incision in the abdomen and remove the entire kidney (nephrectomy) or the kidney tumors and the surrounding area (partial nephrectomy).

The USC Institute of Urology houses the premiere center for robotic treatment for kidney cancer. Not only does robotic surgery save the kidney, but it also reduces the patient’s recovery time.

“Using the surgical robotic system, we can perform partial nephrectomies, which removes just the tumor and preserves the remaining portion of the kidney,” explains Dr. Berger. “Even if the tumor is large and invades or extends into the renal vein and the vena cava, we can still use robotic surgery to remove it.”

Other benefits include minimal scarring and bleeding, less need for medication and less pain.

The urologists at Keck Medicine of USC have performed more than 1,000 minimally invasive robotic partial nephrectomies for renal tumors.

If you have any of the symptoms discussed or want a second opinion, consult with the expert urologists at the USC Institute of Urology. If you are in the Los Angeles area, schedule an appointment by calling (800) USC-CARE (800-872-2273) or by visiting

By Heidi Tyline King