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About Minimally Invasive Surgery

Generally, there are three levels of invasiveness for surgical procedures.

  • Noninvasive surgery does not break the skin or go beyond a normal body opening. An example of noninvasive surgery is stereotactic radiosurgery, which directs highly focused radiation at a brain tumor, for example.
  • Open surgery involves cutting skin and tissues, so that the surgeon has direct access and visibility of the area or organs requiring attention.
  • Minimally invasive surgery makes smaller incisions than open surgery. The result is faster healing. Examples of minimally invasive surgery are laparoscopic, robot-assisted, endovascular and natural orifice translumenal endoscopic surgery (NOTES).
Read about minimally invasive surgical techniques below. 

Laparoscopic Surgery

Laparoscopic surgery or laparoscopy is a form of minimally invasive surgery in which a small incision is made in the abdominal wall through which an instrument called a laparoscope is inserted.

The laparoscope has a tiny video camera enabling the surgeon to see inside the abdomen without a large open surgical incision. The surgical area is magnified on a TV monitor.

The surgeon makes a few small incisions that are each about one-quarter to one-half inch long and inserts several small, thin instruments with which to operate. UC San Diego Health physicians are regularly performing complex surgeries that once required large incisions. By carefully removing diseased tissue in small pieces, cancerous and damaged organs can be removed through laparoscopic techniques. 

Robotic Surgery

Advanced, computer-enhanced technologies provide new alternatives to surgical procedures. Robot-assisted surgery is a special form of minimally invasive surgery that uses the da Vinci surgical system. Robot-assisted surgery is associated with improved patient outcomes and less pain, blood loss, scarring and time to recuperate. Read more about robotic surgery.

Endoscopic Surgery

Endoscopic surgery makes use of an endoscope, which is a thin tube with a small camera and light attached. As the doctor moves the endoscope through a body passageway (such as the gastrointestinal tract or respiratory tract) or opening (including from surgery), he or she can see inside the organ or tissue. Endoscopes are used for diagnosing conditions throughout the body. Advances in endoscopic medicine have lead to the development of new endoscopic tools that enable physicians to see, diagnose and treat numerous conditions. The treatment of conditions with endoscopic tools is called therapeutic endoscopy. Read more about advanced endoscopy at UC San Diego Health. 

Endovascular Surgery

Endovascular surgery is a minimally invasive procedure used to treat problems affecting the blood vessels. An endovascular surgeon will get access to the problem area, such as a clogged artery, through the femoral artery, for example. Sliding a long catheter through the artery, the clog will be treated with a self-adjusting stent or inflatable balloon. Unlike traditional vascular surgery, local anesthesia is typically used for endovascular surgery, and recovery time is reduced. 


UC San Diego’s Minimally Invasive Surgery team is advancing scarless surgery techniques called natural orifice translumenal endoscopic surgery (NOTES) that involve removing damaged or diseased organs through natural openings in the body. Read more at the Center for the Future of Surgery.
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