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Advances in medical science have now provided colorectal cancer patients with options when they are faced with a surgical procedure—and for many patients, those options can mean a faster and less painful recovery. 

Traditionally, surgeons have used large cuts to access a patient’s internal organs in a method known as open surgery. While this method is still in use—and in some cases is necessary—more surgeons are adopting minimally invasive surgical practices.

First used in the 1990s, minimally invasive surgery includes laparoscopic surgery and even-newer robotic surgery. Only in the last decade has minimally invasive surgery been used to treat colorectal cancer cases, but it’s quickly gaining ground as the operation of choice in surgical departments nationwide, when possible. Laparoscopic surgeries increased more than three times between 2004 and 2012. 

In laparoscopic and robotic surgeries, a surgeon makes several small cuts, as tiny as a half-centimeter, and one of them is to insert a laparoscope (a thin device with a light and camera at the end) into the abdomen. The laparoscope helps guide the surgeon, who uses tiny surgical instruments to complete the operation through the other small cuts. In robotic surgery, the surgical instruments are moved by a high-precision machine that is controlled by a surgeon.

Multiple studies have shown that minimally invasive surgery procedures, when appropriate, are as safe as open surgeries. Beyond safety, there are numerous advantages of minimally invasive surgery over open surgery. 

  • The small incisions used in minimally invasive surgeries lead to less bleeding and less discomfort and pain, and hence less need for pain medication. 

  • Reports also indicated fewer infections and wound complications and overall better healing than in open surgery.  

  • Bowel functions are typically restored more quickly following minimally invasive surgery than following open surgery, which results in overall faster recovery, shorter hospitalization, and a quicker return to the patient’s daily routine.  

  • The long-term positive outcomes from minimally invasive surgery are at least equivalent to open surgery, and more and more evidence on beneficial outcomes is emerging from research across the world. 

  • For patients over 65, the use of minimally invasive surgery has led to improved survival rates. 

Except in emergency cases, surgeons often recommend open, laparoscopic, or robotic procedures based on their own experience and preferences. It is important to ask your surgeon’s  experience and review surgical options together.

In summary, minimally invasive surgery, when possible and appropriate, offers patients numerous benefits. For that reason, the Colorectal Cancer Alliance partnered with Medtronic to build dedicated online resources to educate patients and caregivers on surgical options, including minimally invasive surgeries. See the website here



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