Surgery Lite: Understanding Endoscopic Surgery
When is minimally invasive surgery better than traditional surgery? What are the risks?
It's not often that a surgical technique becomes a national craze. But
endoscopic or minimally invasive surgery has, albeit a minor one. It's in the
newspaper. It's on the lips of your uncle, who can't resist showing off his
tiny scars at every family function. Even on your commute to work, billboards
trumpet the minimally invasive surgery centers at competing local
"For patients, 'minimally invasive' are the hot buzzwords," says
Michael Argenziano, MD, director of minimally invasive cardiac surgery and
arrhythmia surgery at New York Presbyterian Hospital. "And surgeons are
responding to their patients' demand. I don't think that there's a single
surgical field that hasn't tried some sort of minimally invasive
While the term is pretty vague, "minimally invasive" - or endoscopic
or "keyhole" surgery - generally means operations that are less
traumatic than traditional surgery. By using special instruments, the approach
can allow for smaller incisions, quicker recovery, and fewer side effects.
Since it was first used in the late 1980s, minimally invasive surgery has
changed the standards for how many operations are done.
It makes intuitive sense to patients. Why get cut open if you can avoid
But minimally invasive surgery isn't right for everyone. Despite what you
hear, "minimally invasive" doesn't always mean "better."
"People have this idea that minimally invasive surgery is not painful or
that it's not really surgery," says Marshall Z. Schwartz, MD, professor of
surgery in pediatrics at St. Christopher's Hospital for Children in
Philadelphia. "Neither is true. It's not Star Trek technology, where we
wave a wand over someone and they're healed."
Getting the Facts on Minimally Invasive Surgery
When it comes to deciding whether to get minimally invasive surgery, the key
is to make an informed decision.