Minimally invasive surgeons have been intrigued for more than 2 decades by the clinical aspects and benefits of minilaparoscopy. Miniature instruments (2-3.5 mm) were introduced starting in the late 1980s, and through the 1990s minilaparoscopic procedures were performed across multiple specialties. However, the instrumentation available at the time had limited durability and functionality (for example, a lack of electrosurgical capability), and clinical experience and resulting data were sparse. The minilaparoscopic approach failed to gain momentum and was never widely adopted.
In the past 5-10 years, with new innovations in technology and improved instrumentation, minilaparoscopy is undergoing a renaissance in surgical circles. Medical device companies have developed numerous electrosurgical and other advanced energy options as well as a variety of needle holders, graspers, and other instruments – all with diameters of 3.5 mm or less and with significantly more durability than the earlier generation of mini-instruments. While surgeons oftentimes still use larger telescopes for better visualization, 2- to 3.5-mm telescopes are available in various lengths and angles, and optic quality is continually improving.
The minilaparoscopic approach is more similar to conventional laparoscopy than laparoendoscopic single-site surgery, which has not met early expectations. It is a more logical next step in the evolution of minimally invasive surgery and its goals of further reducing surgical trauma and improving cosmesis. I am performing hysterectomies in which I place two 5-mm nonbladed trocars through incisions inside the umbilicus and a minilaparoscopic percutaneous cannula below the bikini line; it is a “hybrid” procedure, in essence, that incorporates the use of mini-instrumentation.
In addition to diagnostic laparoscopy, I also use minilaparoscopy for some of my patients who need ovarian cystectomy, oophorectomy, appendectomy, treatment of early-stage endometriosis or adhesiolysis. Throughout the world and across multiple specialties, it is being adopted for a wide range of adult and pediatric procedures, from abdominopelvic adhesions and inguinal hernia repair to cholecystectomy, and even to enhance diagnosis in the ED or ICU.1
The importance of surgical scars
The resurgence of interest in minilaparoscopy has been driven largely by its clinical advantages. From a clinical standpoint, less intrusion through the abdominal wall with the use of smaller instruments and fewer insertion points generally means less surgical trauma, and less analgesic medication and postoperative pain, for instance, as well as fewer vascular injuries and a more minimal risk of adhesions. Scar cosmesis also has been viewed as an advantage, just as it was when the abdominal hysterectomy was being replaced by laparoscopic hysterectomy starting in 1989. Still, for me, the clinical aspects have long been at the forefront.
My interest in providing my patients the very best cosmetic results changed after we surveyed patients who were scheduled for a hysterectomy in my practice over the span of 1 year. All patients seen during that time (from November 2012 to November 2013) were asked to complete a questionnaire on their knowledge of hysterectomy incisional scars, their perceptions, and their desires. Almost all of the 200 women who completed the survey – 93% – indicated that cosmetic issues such as scars are important to them (“slightly,” “moderately,” “quite,” or “extremely” important), and of these, 24% chose “extremely important.”
Asked how they feel about the appearance of their scars from prior abdominal surgery, 58% indicated the appearance bothered them to some extent, and 11% said they were “extremely” bothered. Almost all of the 200 patients – 92% – said they would be interested in a surgery that would leave no scars, and 45% said they were “extremely” interested.2
The findings juxtaposed the clinical benefits of more minimally invasive surgery – what had been foremost on my mind – with patients’ attention to and concern about scars. The study demonstrated that patient preferences are just as compelling, if not more, than what the surgeon wants. It showed, moreover, how important it is to discuss hysterectomy incision options – and patient preferences regarding incision location, size, and number – prior to surgery.
When asked about their familiarity with the locations of skin incisions in different hysterectomy procedures (abdominal, vaginal, laparoscopic, robotic, and mini), between 25% and 56% indicated they were not at all familiar with them. Familiarity was greatest with incisions in traditional laparoscopic hysterectomy. Yet patients want to have that knowledge: Almost all of the survey participants – 93% – indicated it is important to discuss the location, number, and size of incisions prior to surgery, and 59% said it is “extremely” important.
Patients also were asked to rank a short list of incision locations (above or below the belly button, and above or below the bikini line) from the least desirable to most desirable, and the results suggest just how different personal preferences can be. The most-desirable incision location was below the bikini line for 68% of patients, followed by above the belly button for 16%. The least-desirable location was above the belly button for 69%, followed by below the bikini line for 15%. Asked whether it is cosmetically superior for one’s incisions to be low (below the bikini line), 86% said they agreed.
Other research has similarly shown that cosmesis is important for women undergoing gynecologic surgery. For instance, women in another single-practice study were more likely to prefer single-site and traditional laparoscopic incisions over robotic ones when they were shown photos of an abdomen marked up with the incision lengths and locations typical for each of these three approaches.3 And notably, there has been research looking at the psychological impact of incisional scars specifically in patients who are morbidly obese.
While we may not be accustomed to discussing incisions and scars, it behooves us as surgeons to consider initiating a conversation about incisions with all our patients – regardless of their body mass index and prior surgical history – during the preoperative evaluation.