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What is laparoscopic surgery?


Laparoscopic surgery is a type of minimally invasive surgery. Instead of a big incision, the surgeon uses a few small cuts (0.5-1 centimeters) to insert surgical instruments into the abdominal cavity.

The main surgical instrument used is called a laparoscope: a long, thin tube with a light and camera on the end. A slightly bigger incision, about 3.5 centimeters wide, is made to remove the tumor.

It’s important to know about your choices and to talk to your doctor about which option is best for your treatment and for your recovery.

Who is eligible?

Many colon and rectal cancer patients are eligible for laparoscopic surgery. The decision around which type of surgical procedure to use should be discussed with your doctor and healthcare team. Many patients also find it helpful to get a second opinion and discuss options with surgeons who have had experience with different types of techniques. The best type of surgery for you is dependent on many things, including your health, your surgeon’s experience, and your cancer type.

Most patients are eligible to undergo laparoscopic surgery, such as those with:

  • Early stage cancer
  • Less advanced cancer
  • No prior major surgeries
  • Fewer radiation treatments
  • Lower Body Mass Index (BMI)

Video: The benefits of laparoscopic surgery with Dr. Craig

Having surgery for colorectal cancer used to mean large wounds and a long recovery. Now many patients have other options, according to Dr. Nicholas Craig. Learn more about the benefits of  laparoscopic surgery.

What can I expect?


Carbon dioxide gas is used to inflate the abdomen and create space for the surgeon to operate. The gas is naturally absorbed or removed by the body. The laparoscope sends images from inside the body to video monitors in the operating room.

The surgical instruments function as an extension of the surgeon's hands. During the operation, the surgeon moves the instruments by watching the monitors. The surgeon will remove the segment of the colon or rectum that contains the tumor through the larger incision, along with the attached lymph nodes.

The surgeon will then check the rest of the intestines and liver to see if the cancer has spread.

Video: A tale of two surgeries

Colorado resident Brittany Sliter's life was turned upside-down by a colon cancer diagnosis at age 23. Hear about her experiences with open and laparoscopic surgery.

What are the benefits & risks?


Some research suggests that there are multiple potential benefits to laparoscopic surgery, including fewer complications and a shorter hospital stay. This type of minimally invasive surgery has several advantages compared with traditional surgery, due to the smaller incisions. Benefits include:

  • You may be able to leave the hospital quicker.
  • You have smaller scars that heal more quickly.
  • You will likely feel less pain while the scars heal.
  • You get back to your normal activities sooner.
  • You may have less internal scarring.

For example, with open colorectal surgery you might spend a week or more in the hospital for intestinal surgery, and your total recovery might take 4 to 8 weeks. If you have laparoscopic surgery, you might stay only 2 nights in the hospital and recover in 2 or 3 weeks. Shorter hospital stays are often less expensive as well.

Talk to your surgical team about what options work best for you.

What questions should I ask my doctor?


Here are some questions you should ask your doctor

  • What options are available for my surgery needs?
  • Which is best for my situation?
  • What are the differences between types of surgery (open, laparoscopic, and robotic-assisted)?
  • Should I get a second opinion?
  • What should I expect after surgery?
  • How should I prepare for surgery?
  • What is your experience with this and other types of surgery?
  • What are typical outcomes for your patients?

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