Pediatric Surgery

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What Is "Minimally Invasive" Surgery?

My daughter needs to undergo a surgical procedure, and the doctor has recommended "minimally invasive" surgery. What type of surgery is this? Will it be as safe — and effective — as standard surgery?
– Julie

Minimally invasive surgery is becoming more and more common in hospitals. These procedures are performed through tiny incisions instead of one large opening. Because the incisions are small, patients tend to have quicker recovery times and less discomfort than with conventional surgery all with the same benefits.

During a minimally invasive procedure, surgeons make several small incisions in the skin — just a few millimeters, in some cases. A long, thin tube with a miniature camera attached at the end (called an endoscope) is passed through one of the incisions. Images from the endoscope are projected onto monitors in the operating room so surgeons can get a clear (and magnified) view of the surgical area. Special instruments are passed through the other openings. These instruments allow the surgeon to perform the surgery by exploring, removing, or repairing whatever's wrong inside the body. 

In some cases, a patient might be scheduled for a minimally invasive procedure, but after getting a view inside the body the surgeon might have to "convert" the procedure to an open (conventional) surgery. This may be because the problem or the anatomy is different from what the surgeon expected.

Minimally invasive surgery can take longer than conventional surgery, but the pros usually outweigh the cons. Because the incisions are small, the child usually feels less pain, has less scarring, and may recover more quickly than with conventional surgery.

Not all procedures can (or should) be done through minimally invasive methods, however. The removal of cancer tumors, for example, is often best performed through open surgery. Your doctor will tell you what type of procedure is best for your child. Be sure to ask about the possible risks associated with any procedure, as well as the potential benefits.

Reviewed by: Charles D. Vinocur, MD
Date reviewed: May 2012

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