OBJECTIVE: To compare perioperative outcome and health-related quality of life (HRQOL) after open partial and radical nephrectomy for renal tumours. METHODS: Literature search of Medline and additional references from non-Medline-indexed journals for documents concerning treatment of renal tumours, perioperative outcome, and HRQOL after radical and partial nephrectomy. RESULTS: A total of 39 references were used of which 7 discussed complications, 3 included hospital costs and length of stay, and 7 each discussed renal function and QOL. No statistical difference was found concerning perioperative complications although there seems to be a trend towards a slightly higher complication rate after partial nephrectomy. No statistical difference was reported between the two procedures concerning hospital costs and length of stay. For postoperative renal function, a higher incidence of chronic renal failure was noted after radical nephrectomy. When considering the HRQOL a benefit was found after elective partial nephrectomy. In case of mandatory partial nephrectomy the fear of recurrence and the worry about having fewer than two normal kidneys were significantly higher. CONCLUSIONS: Partial nephrectomy achieves a better HRQOL due to better preservation of renal function and overall quality of life. Considering perioperative outcome no statistical difference was found for hospital costs and length of stay. A trend towards a higher perioperative complication rate was found after partial nephrectomy.