Laparoscopy is a type of surgical procedure in which a small incision is made, usually in the navel, through which a viewing tube (laparoscope) is inserted. The viewing tube has a small camera on the eyepiece. This allows the doctor to examine the abdominal and pelvic organs on a video monitor connected to the tube. Other small incisions can be made to insert instruments to perform procedures. Laparoscopy can be done to diagnose conditions or to perform certain types of operations. It is less invasive than regular open abdominal surgery (laparotomy).
Since the late 1980s, laparoscopy has been a popular diagnostic and treatment tool. The technique dates back to 1901, when it was reportedly first used in a gynecologic procedure performed in Russia. In fact, gynecologists were the first to use laparoscopy to diagnose and treat conditions relating to the female reproductive organs: uterus, fallopian tubes, and ovaries.
Laparoscopy was first used with cancer patients in 1973. In these first cases, the procedure was used to observe and biopsy the liver. Laparoscopy plays a role in the diagnosis, staging, and treatment for a variety of cancers.
As of 2001, the use of laparoscopy to completely remove cancerous growths and surrounding tissues (in place of open surgery) is controversial. The procedure is being studied to determine if it is as effective as open surgery in complex operations. Laparoscopy is also being investigated as a screening tool for ovarian cancer.
As a diagnostic procedure, laparoscopy is useful in taking biopsies of abdominal or pelvic growths, as well as lymph nodes. It allows the doctor to examine the abdominal area, including the female organs, appendix, gallbladder, stomach, and the liver.
While laparoscopic surgery to completely remove cancerous tumors, surrounding tissues, and lymph nodes is used on a limited basis, this type of operation is widely used in noncancerous conditions that once required open surgery. These conditions include:
Tubal ligation. In this procedure, the fallopian tubes are sealed or cut to prevent subsequent pregnancies.
Ectopic pregnancy. If a fertilized egg becomes embedded outside the uterus, usually in the fallopian tube, an operation must be performed to remove the developing embryo. This often can be done with laparoscopy.
Endometriosis. This is a condition in which tissue from inside the uterus is found outside the uterus in other parts of (or on organs within) the pelvic cavity. This can
cause cysts to form. Endometriosis is diagnosed with laparoscopy, and in some cases the cysts and other tissue can be removed during laparoscopy.
Hysterectomy. This procedure to remove the uterus can, in some cases, be performed using laparoscopy. The uterus is cut away with the aid of the laparoscopic instruments and then the uterus is removed through the vagina.
Ovarian masses. Tumors or cysts in the ovaries can be removed using laparoscopy.
Appendectomy. This surgery to remove an inflamed appendix required open surgery in the past. It is now routinely performed with laparoscopy.
Cholecystectomy. Like appendectomy, this procedure to remove the gallbladder used to require open surgery. Now it can be performed with laparoscopy, in some cases.
In contrast to open abdominal surgery, laparoscopy usually involves less pain, less risk, less scarring, and faster recovery. Because laparoscopy is so much less invasive than traditional abdominal surgery, patients can leave the hospital sooner.
Laparoscopy can be used in determining the spread of certain cancers. Sometimes it is combined with ultrasound. Although laparoscopy is a useful staging tool, its use depends on a variety of factors, which are considered for each patient. Types of cancers where laparoscopy may be used to determine the spread of the disease include:
Liver cancer. Laparoscopy is an important tool for determining if cancer is present in the liver. When a patient has non-liver cancer, the liver is often checked to see if the cancer has spread there. Laparoscopy can identify up to 90% of malignant lesions that have spread to that organ from a cancer located elsewhere in the body. While computed tomography (CT) can find cancerous lesions that are 0.4 in (10 mm) in size, laparoscopy is capable of locating lesions that are as small as 0.04 in (1 millimeter).
Pancreatic cancer. Laparoscopy has been used to evaluate pancreatic cancer for years. In fact, the first reported use of laparoscopy in the United States was in a case involving pancreatic cancer.
Hodgkin's disease. Some patients with Hodgkin's disease have surgical procedures to evaluate lymph nodes for cancer. Laparoscopy is sometimes selected over laparotomy for this procedure. In addition, the spleen may be removed in patients with Hodgkin's disease. Laparoscopy is the standard surgical technique for this procedure, which is called a splenectomy.
Prostate cancer. Patients with prostate cancer may have the nearby lymph nodes examined. Laparoscopy is an important tool in this procedure.
Laparoscopy is sometimes used as part of a palliative cancer treatment. This type of treatment is not a cure, but can often lessen the symptoms. An example is the feeding tube, which cancer patients may have if they are unable to take in food by mouth. The feeding tube provides nutrition directly into the stomach. Inserting the tube with a laparoscopy saves the patient the ordeal of open surgery.
Carol A. Turkington, Rhonda Cloos R.N., The Gale Group Inc., Gale, Detroit,