By Banner Health

Decades of advancements building upon each other—both in oncology and operating room technology—provide surgeons the ability to treat kidney cancer with minimally invasive incisions while preserving function of the compromised organs. Benjamin Lee, MD, is chief of urology at Banner – University Medicine in Tucson, and his patient, Patricia Cruz, is a living example of the ability to minimize the risks renal failure and dialysis, while curing cancer.

Before meeting Dr. Lee, Cruz experienced several severe urinary tract infections, or UTIs. She first tried to treat the UTIs on her own, but her family members encouraged her to seek medical help when the infections became overwhelming.

“I got a sharp pain on my right side really sharp, and it lasted for about an hour,” she said. “I threw up from the pain.”

Dr. Lee discovered large tumors on each of her kidneys, as well as a large staghorn calculus, a kidney stone the size of a golf ball, which he said caused the UTIs.

“The one on the right was about the size of a football; the one on the left was about the size of a grapefruit,” he said. “I thought to myself, ‘We can help her.’”

Before he could remove the tumors, Dr. Lee needed to reduce them in size.  “We can shrink that tumor in order to save the kidney,” Lee said. “Our job is urologists are really to save the kidney and minimize those risks of dialysis.”

But first, he needed to treat the UTIs. Dr. Lee worked to clear the infection from the stone and once the stone was cleared, he then used tyrosine kinase inhibitors, a form of chemotherapy, to shrink the tumors to save 50 percent of the left kidney and then staged it—let the kidney recover—and then treated the right kidney, in the same manner.

“One of the innovative factors that was performed at the Arizona Cancer Center here at Banner – University Medical Center Tucson was to downsize and shrink the tumor using tyrosine kinase inhibitors prior to robotic surgery,” Dr. Lee said. “In the past, total (radical) removal of the kidney would likely have to be performed, due to the massive size and growth of the tumor. After shrinking the tumor 35 percent, we performed a robotic partial nephrectomy, which is surgery to cut out the cancer and save 50 to 75 percent of the normal kidney.”

Surgery involved use of the da Vinci® Xi Robotic Surgical System, which allows for minimally invasive surgery utilizing smaller cuts and a highly precise procedure performed by the surgeon using a computer interface with highly detailed 3D imaging.

“In the last 10 years, the application of robotic surgery for kidney cancer has grown significantly,” Dr. Lee said.

The combination of the chemotherapy treatment and use of the da Vinci® Robotic Surgical System allowed Cruz to recover faster and, she said, almost pain-free. 

“I did not feel any pain after the surgeries,” Cruz said. “They had prescribed some narcotics, and I didn’t even have to take those.”

In addition to reduced pain, Dr. Lee said, recovery time is only a couple weeks instead of several months.

“Because the incisions are smaller, the amount of pain is less,” Dr. Lee said. “Because the amount of pain is less, the amount of pain medication required is less and the recovery time is quicker.”

Dr. Lee, an internationally recognized leader in urology, is showing his advancements to fellow urologists as an option to treat kidney cancer and avoid the need for a kidney transplant or dialysis due to renal failure. Prospective patients can schedule an appointment with Dr. Lee and his team by clicking here.

Banner – University Medical Center Tucson, nationally ranked as a best hospital by U.S. News and World Report, and Banner – University Medical Center South are part of Banner – University Medicine, a premier academic medical network. These institutions are academic medical centers for the University of Arizona College of Medicine – Tucson. Included on the two campuses are Diamond Children’s Medical Center and many specialty clinics. The two academic medical centers are part of Arizona-based Banner Health, one of the largest nonprofit health care systems in the country. Banner Health is in six states: Arizona, California, Colorado, Nebraska, Nevada and Wyoming. For more information, visit www.bannerhealth.com/universitytucson or www.bannerhealth.com/universitysouth.

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