This minimally invasive procedure results in faster recovery for cancer patients

Having had little more than a broken hand since 1961, James Hughes of Silver Spring was shocked when a routine physical led to the discovery of a large tumor engulfing his kidney.

“When my doctor said I should see a urologist because of elevated PSA [prostate-specific antigen] levels, I didn’t think much of it,” Hughes says.

Jonathan Rhee, M.D., a urologist at Washington Adventist Hospital, found microscopic blood in Hughes’ urine and ordered a series of tests, starting with a CT scan.

A subsequent MRI found a large renal mass on Hughes’ left kidney that was most likely cancerous.

Kidney cancer is diagnosed after the tissue is removed and examined. Biopsies of kidney tumors to check for the presence of cancer are rarely performed because there’s a chance a biopsy could spread cancerous tissue. There is also a chance a biopsy will not come up positive for cancer when cancer is, in fact, present.

“Eighty to 90 percent of large solid growths, like the one found in Mr. Hughes, are cancerous,” Dr. Rhee says. “Kidney cancer tends to be ‘silent,’ causing no symptoms until it spreads. More and more we’re finding it incidentally during a CT scan or MRI for something else.”

Hughes and his wife met with Dr. Rhee to discuss their options. “My world was spinning,” Hughes says. “I felt perfectly fine, yet I was facing major surgery for cancer.”

It was determined that the best treatment would be a laparoscopic nephrectomy, a minimally invasive procedure to remove the affected kidney and tumor. Yet, with the prospect of major surgery looming, Dr. Rhee’s expertise and compassionate approach alleviated Hughes’ fears.

“Dr. Rhee is a wonderful communicator. After a few minutes my wife was sure this was the man who could operate on me,” Hughes says. “We felt confident knowing this laparoscopic approach was one of his specialties.”

At Washington Adventist Hospital, each patient works with a urologist, such as Dr. Rhee, who is experienced in managing kidney cancer to determine the best course of action. Whenever possible, minimally invasive techniques are used to help patients recover faster and return to normal lives. “For a patient like James Hughes, not only does this surgery ensure the cancer is completely removed, but by using a minimally invasive approach the incisions are smaller which means less pain and a faster overall recovery,” Dr. Rhee says.

Hughes underwent surgery in December 2010. “Everyone at the hospital was so encouraging to me and my family,” he says. “The personalized service made me feel cared-for every step of the way.”

Once removed, the tumor was found to be cancerous. “Dr. Rhee knew something was wrong. I’m so thankful he found this tumor,” says Hughes, who has since been given a clean bill of health. “I’ve told him he’s my rock-star surgeon!”