50 years of gynecologic surgery: A large dose of ingenuity, a small dose of controversy


Over the past 50 years, there has been explosive change in gynecologic surgery. Ob.Gyn. News has been at the forefront of capturing and chronicling this paradigm shift in the treatment of the female patient.

Our beginnings

From antiquity, physicians and surgeons have struggled with pelvic prolapse, uterine fibroids, ovarian cysts, urinary incontinence, vesicovaginal fistulas, pelvic pain, and abnormal uterine bleeding. At the time of the first edition of Ob.Gyn. News, it had been less than a century since Thomas Edison invented the light bulb; just over 50 years since Hans Christian Jacobaeus first created air pneumoperitoneum using a trocar, followed by the Nitze cystoscope; about 40 years since Richard Zollikofer created a carbon dioxide pneumoperitoneum; 25 years since F.H. Powers and A.C. Barnes had first described laparoscopic tubal sterilization by cautery; and about 20 years since Raoul Palmer, considered the father of modern laparoscopy, had first described the technique – left upper quadrant entry, testing insufflation, Trendelenburg positioning, and simple laparoscopic instrumentation.

Dr. Charles E. Miller Courtesy Robyn Sheldon, Edward-Elmhurst Health

Dr. Charles E. Miller

In the 1950s, Hans Frangenheim would bring monopolar electrosurgery to laparoscopy and Harold Hopkins would introduce fiber optics. It was not until 1967 that Patrick Steptoe would publish the first textbook on laparoscopy in the English language.

Although usage as a diagnostic tool and a method of sterilization increased popularity of laparoscopy in the 1960s and early 1970s, there were few advances. In fact, a review of early editions of Ob.Gyn. News during that time period shows that the majority of articles involving laparoscopy dealt with sterilization; including the introduction of clips for tubal sterilization by Jaroslav Hulka in 1972. This did not deter the efforts of Jordan Phillips, who along with Jacques Rioux, Louis Keith, Richard Soderstrom – four early laparoscopists – incorporated a new society, the American Association of Gynecologic Laparoscopists (the AAGL) in 1971.

Simultaneously, in 1979, James Daniell in the United States, Maurice Bruhart in France, and Yona Tadir in Israel were promoting efforts to couple the carbon dioxide laser to the laparoscope to treat pelvic adhesions and endometriosis. Later on, fiber lasers, KTP, Nd:YAG, and Argon lasers would be utilized in our field. Still, only a few extirpative procedures were being performed via a laparoscope route. This included linear salpingostomy for the treatment of ectopic pregnancy, championed by Professor Bruhart and H. Manhes in Europe, and Alan DeCherney in the United States.

During the 1980s, laparoscopic surgery was at its innovative best. Through the pioneering efforts of Professor Kurt Semm and his protégée, Liselotte Mettler, the gynecologic laparoscopist was introduced to endoloops, simple suturing techniques, and mechanical morcellation techniques.

Procedures such as salpingo-oophorectomy, appendectomy, and myomectomy could now be performed via the laparoscope. Dr. Camran Nezhat coupled the carbon dioxide laser, the laparoscope, and the television monitor, coining the term laparoscopy. Most importantly, the laparoscopic surgeon was liberated; he or she could remain upright and perform surgery with both hands. Through the 1980s and 1990s, Dr. Nezhat, Dr. Harry Reich, and other innovators pushed the envelope in increasing the ability to extirpate endometriosis, excise severe pelvic adhesions, and perform discoid and segmental bowel resection.

The day the earth stood still

Every gynecologic laparoscopic surgeon should remember Jan. 26, 1988, as that was the date that Dr. Harry Reich performed the first total laparoscopic hysterectomy. Now, little more than 25 years later, in many parts of the country, a laparoscopic approach to hysterectomy is indeed the most common route. Over the years, with the evolution of instrumentation, including new energy systems (ultrasonic, advanced bipolar) and the introduction of barbed sutures, hysterectomy can now be performed via minilaparoscopy, single-site laparoscopy, robot-assisted, and robotic single site, all of which have been featured in the Ob.Gyn. News’ Master Class in Gynecologic Surgery.

But hysteroscopy came first

Abulkasim utilized a mirror to reflect light into the vaginal vault in 1,000 A.D. In 1806, Philipp Bozzini originated the idea of illuminating body cavities by an external light source. Through a system of mirrors and tubes, candlelight could be reflected into the body. In 1869, D.C. Pantaleoni used a cystoscope developed by Antoine Desormeaux – who has been called the father of endoscopy – to treat endometrial polyps with silver nitrate.

Through the 50 years of Ob.Gyn. News and over the past 12 years of the Master Class in Gynecologic Surgery, our community has been consistently updated as to advances in hysteroscopy, not only to enhance treatment efficacy, but safety as well. This has included such advances as the continuous flow hysteroscope, the Hamou contact hysteroscope, and fluid management systems to enhance visualization.

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