Minimally invasive surgery allows your surgeon to use techniques that limit the size and number of cuts, or incisions, that they need to make. It’s typically considered safer than open surgery. You’ll usually recover more quickly, spend less time in the hospital, and feel more comfortable while you heal.

In traditional open surgery, your surgeon makes one large cut to see the part of your body that they’re operating on. In minimally invasive surgery, your surgeon uses small tools, cameras, and lights that fit through several tiny cuts in your skin. This allows your surgeon to perform surgery without opening a lot of skin and muscle.

Some minimally invasive surgeries are done with robotic technology that allows more precise control over the surgery. Other minimally invasive surgeries are done without robotic assistance.

Keep reading to find out about different types of minimally invasive surgeries, the conditions that can be treated, and the benefits and risks of each type.

Robotic surgery, or robotic-assisted surgery, is done with an electronic operating station that’s similar to a computer. From this station, your doctor or surgeon controls a high-definition camera and robotic arms that perform the surgery.

To perform most robotic-assisted surgeries, your doctor or surgeon will:

  1. Use anesthesia to keep you asleep throughout the surgery.
  2. Set up tools to be used by the robotic arms during the surgery.
  3. Make several small incisions where tools will be inserted.
  4. Insert tools attached to the robotic arms into your body through the incisions.
  5. Insert a narrow tube with a light and camera on it, called an endoscope, through another incision. This allows them to see the area they’re operating on.
  6. Perform the operation with the robotic arms while looking at endoscope images on the screen.
  7. Remove all tools from the incisions.
  8. Stitch the incisions shut once the procedure is done.

Many surgeries can be performed using robotic-assisted techniques, including those used to treat problems dealing with the:

Lungs

Heart

Urologic system

Gynecologic system

Digestive system

Other general areas

Benefits

While both are minimally invasive, the primary advantage of robotic surgery over laparoscopic surgery is that your surgeon can see the operative field in 3-D. In contrast, with laparoscopic surgery your surgeon is only able to view the surgical site in two dimensions (2-D). There’s also “motion scaling” software that allows your surgeon to more precisely perform delicate techniques.

The main benefits of robotic surgery, compared to open surgery include:

  • losing less blood during surgery
  • less damage to skin, muscles, and tissue
  • shorter, less painful recovery time
  • smaller risk of infection
  • smaller, less visible scars

Risks

As with any surgery, risks are possible with general anesthesia and infections. Robotic surgery can take longer than open surgery. This is because your doctor needs to set up the robotic equipment before the procedure is done. The risks of anesthesia can increase. Talk to your doctor before you have a robotic surgery to make sure you’re healthy enough to undergo surgery.

In some cases, your doctor may do open surgery if robotic surgery won’t allow them to finish successfully. This can lead to a longer recovery time and a larger scar.

Non-robotic minimally invasive surgery includes laparoscopic (“keyhole”), endoscopic, or endovascular surgery. This surgery is similar to robotic surgery except that your surgeon operates using their hands rather than robotic arms.

To perform most endoscopic surgeries, your doctor or surgeon will:

  1. Use general anesthesia to keep you asleep throughout the surgery.
  2. Make several small incisions where tools will be inserted.
  3. Insert the tools into your body through several of the incisions.
  4. Insert the endoscope through another incision so that they can see the area they’re operating on. Your doctor may insert the endoscope through another opening, like your nose or mouth, if the site is close enough.
  5. Perform the operation by hand while looking at the images projected by the endoscope onto the screen.
  6. Remove all tools from the incisions.
  7. Stitch the incisions shut.

Many of the same conditions treated with robotic surgery can also be treated with non-robotic surgery.

Other conditions treated by non-robotic surgery include those relating to:

Vascular

Neurological or spinal

  • conditions in your spinal cord or discs
  • tumors around your brain or skull
  • treatment for injuries to the brain or spine

Benefits

Many of the benefits of non-robotic surgery are the same as robotic surgery. Your surgeon can see more easily and perform the surgery with greater precision. You’ll have a shorter, less painful recovery time. The chances of complications are lower and your scars will be smaller.

Risks

As with robotic surgery, risks of general anesthesia and infections around the surgery site are possible. Talk to your doctor before you have a non-robotic minimally invasive surgery to see if it’s the best option for you. Make sure you’re healthy enough to undergo surgery, too.

In some cases, your doctor may do open surgery if the endoscopic surgery won’t let them finish successfully. This can lead to a longer recovery time and a larger scar.

Talk with your doctor about any concerns you may have. You may want to ask them:

  • Is surgery a better option for me than medication or antibiotics?
  • Is it a better option than open surgery for me?
  • How long will I spend recovering from the surgery?
  • How much pain will I feel after?
  • Is it any more risky than open surgery for me?
  • Is it a better solution or treatment for my condition?

Minimally invasive surgeries are becoming more common than open surgeries. Robotic and endoscopic technology is quickly advancing, too, so that these surgeries are easier for your surgeon and safer for you.