How long someone waits to have kidney cancer surgery depends on their health and cancer stage. Renal cell cancer (RCC) is the most common form of kidney and renal pelvis cancer. Signs of RCC include blood in the urine and a lump in the abdomen.

Researchers consider a period of under 30 days a short wait for localized RCC surgery. It is an intermediate wait when a person has to wait between 30 and 90 days. However, some kidney cancer surgery wait times can take up to 90 days or more, especially if doctors have discovered the disease at an earlier stage.

The tests doctors use to diagnose RCC include physical exams, ultrasounds, CT imaging, and, in some cases, biopsies. They will also likely screen a person’s blood and urine for any underlying cell changes that could indicate cancer.

Read on to learn more about RCC surgery wait times.

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RCC can be curable when a surgeon removes part or all of the kidney, as long as the cancer has not spread to other organs.

For this reason, it is important that people receive surgery before the cancer affects other organs in different bodily areas. Most people receive an RCC diagnosis when the disease only affects the kidneys. For this reason, around 75% of those with this disease live for another 5 years.

In an older 2011 study, the maximum time a person with RCC should wait for surgery is dependent on the cancer stage. Doctors classify RCC using the TNM system, which starts from T1 and ends at T4, which is the highest. Below are typical surgery wait times for different stages of RCC.

  • T1: 90 days from diagnosis to surgery.
  • T2: 40 days from diagnosis to surgery.
  • T3 and T4: 30 days from diagnosis to surgery.

In terms of wait time having negative effects on survival, the research is mixed. Small sample sizes in some studies may explain this effect.

A 2021 study found that a wait time of 3 months from imaging diagnosis to nephrectomy did not have links to any decrease in survival. A nephrectomy is a surgical procedure that removes all or part of the kidney. However, the sample size in this study was small, especially in the later-stage groups, so researchers cannot generalize these findings to a larger population.

However, a larger 2022 study found the opposite — that prolonged wait times can reduce survival rates among people living with RCC. This study had a much larger sample size, so researchers can generalize the results to a wider demographic.

Generally, outcomes for RCC cancer are more positive when the cancer remains in the kidney and does not spread to other parts of the body.

The SEER database groups kidney cancers into the following categories:

  • Localized: There are no signs of cancer spreading to other parts of the body.
  • Regional: The disease has reached nearby structures and lymph nodes.
  • Distant: The cancer has spread to other distant areas of the body, including the brain, lungs, and bones.

Learn about the risk of kidney cancer recurrence after nephrectomy.

When preparing for RCC surgery, the following actions could be useful:

  • Following any dietary restrictions: This includes not eating for a specified time before the surgery, for example.
  • Packing comfortable clothes: Loose-fitting clothes are the most suitable choice when leaving the hospital.
  • Making a list of exercises: Breathing and mobility exercises can help prevent complications such as lung infections and blood clots occurring when in bed for long periods.

After RCC surgery, most people stay in hospital for around 3–5 days.

When a person awakens from surgery, hospital staff will typically offer care by:

  • monitoring and observing the recovery
  • assessing pain relief
  • taking blood samples
  • removing a wound drain if a person has one
  • monitoring urine output
  • encouraging individuals to walk a little as time goes on

Learn more about kidney cancer surgery.

Here are answers to common questions about kidney cancer surgery.

How urgent is kidney cancer surgery?

When a person has RCC, the stage of RCC tends to determine when they receive surgery. Those with lower stage RCC may have to wait longer in comparison with people who receive a late stage diagnosis.

What stage of kidney cancer requires surgery?

Any stage of RCC can require surgery. A person with T1 stage RCC may have to wait 90 days. However, in more advanced stages, such as T4–T2, the wait times are between 30 and 40 days, respectively.

When should doctors remove a kidney tumor?

A kidney tumor needs removal as soon as possible to prevent further complications, such as increased tumor growth. Moreover, the sooner a surgeon removes a tumor, the less opportunity there is for the cancer to spread to other areas in the body.

How fast does kidney cancer progress?

Lower stages of RCC do not progress as quickly as higher stages of RCC. For example, someone with T4 RCC is more likely to have a faster-growing type of cancer that has spread to other areas of the body. This is in comparison with someone with T1 cancer, which is only in the kidney.

Waiting times for RCC surgery vary from 30–90 days or more. Generally, the higher the stage of RCC, the quicker a person receives surgery. Because doctors can cure early stage RCC with surgery, it is important people receive surgery in time before the cancer spreads to other organs.

When preparing for RCC surgery, a person needs to follow any advice from their doctor, including any dietary restrictions, before the operation. When they wake up from surgery, breathing exercises and staying mobile can help their recovery.