• Cancer Patient Stories

    Partial nephrectomy preserves kidney function after kidney cancer

'I knew where I wanted to go'

Ruth Smith and granddaughterWhen doctors at her local emergency room told Ruth Smith they detected something on her imaging studies that looked like a kidney tumor, she said, "Are you sure it's cancer?"

"Never in a million years did I imagine my severe back pain was caused by cancer," says Smith, who was diagnosed with renal cell carcinoma. "I felt like I'd hit a brick wall, but I knew where I wanted to go."

Smith's go-to medical center was Mayo Clinic — more than 200 miles from her home in Crosby, Minn. "I worked at Mayo Clinic years ago and had 100 percent faith in the doctors," she says.

Smith recalls being frightened before she met with Bradley C. Leibovich, M.D., a urologic surgeon at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. "He was so supportive and encouraging. I felt like a different person when I walked out of his office," says Smith. "He made me confident I could overcome this regardless of the outcome."

After Smith and Dr. Leibovich discussed treatment options, she decided on a partial nephrectomy of her left kidney. Surgeons at Mayo Clinic prefer partial nephrectomy over kidney removal when it's technically possible. "There is no evidence that shows an advantage to removing the entire kidney," says Dr. Leibovich. "In terms of future complications related to kidney failure and other medical problems, we believe there may be advantages to leaving a portion of the kidney."

"Mayo Clinic performs hundreds of partial nephrectomy procedures every year on increasingly larger and more complex tumors," says Dr. Leibovich. "We encourage people who have been told they need to have a kidney removed due to a mass to get a second opinion. Often, we are able to save the kidney."

Smith was discharged from a Mayo Clinic hospital six days after her surgery. Recent tests show her kidney is functioning well.

"I used to think of cancer as a disease that kills people. I now know you can fight it," says Smith.