Explaining the Medical Process

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – North Carolina's announcement regarding Roy Williams's surgery to remove a kidney tumor sparked as many questions as answers on Wednesday afternoon.

Williams underwent a robotic partial nephrectomy at UNC Hospitals to remove a tumor from his right kidney.

InsideCarolina.com reached out to Dr. Joseph Jenkins, a former practicing urologist living in Chapel HIll, to provide some insight into the medical situation. Jenkins attended UNC for both undergraduate and medical school before finishing his Chief Residency in Urology in Chapel Hill in 1979.

First things first, let's get some basic medical terminology defined. A robotic partial nephrectomy – the procedure Williams, 62, underwent on Wednesday morning – is defined as the process of removing diseased tissue from a kidney and leaving healthy tissue in place, according to the Mayo Clinic's website.

The National Institute of Health defines a tumor as an abnormal growth of body tissue, falling under two classifications – malignant (cancerous) and benign (meaning it has no potential to spread).

Jenkins stressed that no one knows at this point what type of tumor Williams had removed. Lab results could take as long as a week or so to be sent back, according to UNC spokesman Steve Kirschner.

"I think everybody assumes when they read something like this that the patient has cancer," Jenkins said. "They see the word ‘tumor' and they think cancer. Well, there are benign tumors in the kidneys, so until a pathologist looks at it under the microscope, you don't really know what you're dealing with.

"The surgeons and urologist took part of a kidney out, not the whole kidney. And, of course, someone can live a long and happy life with just one kidney. Taking out part of a kidney in no way compromises the coach's future, even if they were to have to go in and take out this other possible tumor that was referenced."

UNC announced that Williams could possibly have a second surgery to remove a tumor from his left kidney at a later date.

"If they had to go in and remove part of the other kidney, from a functional standpoint, he would be fine, so there's no reason to think that's going to slow this very active man down," Jenkins said.

Now that the surgery has been completed, pathologists will inspect the tissue specimen and then make a diagnosis as to the type of tumor on Williams's kidney.

Even if the tumor turns out to be malignant, Williams could still be in good shape depending on the success of the surgery. Dr. Eric Wallen, who led the surgical team along with Dr. Matthew Raynor, said the procedure "went well and according to plan."

"I certainly hope the pathology report comes back as benign, but even if it doesn't, it would appear from what has been said that they certainly think they have every reason to believe they've got great margins around the tumor and that he should be cured," Jenkins said.

Kidney tumors in men of Williams's age are neither common nor rare, according to Jenkins. These types of tumors can be very difficult to diagnose due to the kidneys' placement on the internal core of the body, making it troublesome for doctors to feel and access the tumors.

Doctors discovered Williams's tumor during a physical earlier this month.

Jenkins also suggested that the surgeons may not have known the severity of Williams's tumor prior to surgery.

"You usually do not know until you get there," he said. "You can have suspicions from the diagnostic studies that you do and sometimes you simply cannot tell until you get there. And even at that, then you may need to see it under the microscope."

In the school's press release, Wallen said that Williams should be able to coach when practice begins on Oct. 13.


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