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Laparoscopic vs. Robotic Surgery: What’s the Difference?

Small incisions allow for huge benefits. Learn how these two surgery techniques are similar and different and when they’re appropriate.

Laparoscopic and robotic surgeries have many similarities—both types of surgery use small incisions, a camera, and surgical instruments. However, there are technological advancements in robotic surgery that make these procedures easier for surgeons to perform and for patients to recover from.

While robotic surgery has been around since the early 2000s, it has become more widely adopted by surgeons throughout the U.S. over the past 10 years. General surgeons John Phu, MD, and Adeshola Fakulujo, MD, perform laparoscopic and robotic surgeries at Jefferson Health and speak on the differences and advantages of both.

What’s the Difference?

Laparoscopic and robotic surgery are both minimally invasive and very commonly used by surgeons for procedures of the abdomen and pelvis. These two types of surgeries differ from traditional open surgery because they require small incisions and use a camera that magnifies the view of the procedure.

“Laparoscopic and robotic surgeries are performed using similar techniques. However, the technology involved in robotic surgery is much more advanced,” says Dr. Phu.

Laparoscopic surgery is performed by hand, with the help of a two-dimensional camera. Robotic surgery, meanwhile, requires the surgeon to operate instruments from outside the patient’s body, using a console and a three-dimensional camera. “The robot can reach places a surgeon’s hands traditionally cannot in open and laparoscopic surgery and is free from the normal tremors that come from the surgeon’s hand as well,” says Dr. Fakulujo.

Because robotic surgery gives the surgeon a clear and precise view and better dexterity, it typically results in less pain, fewer complications and quicker recovery time for the patient.

What are the advantages?

One big advantage to both laparoscopic and robotic surgeries is that they involve only a few small incisions — versus large ones used in traditional open surgery — which makes procedures much easier on the patient’s body. “These types of procedures result in less pain, less scarring and less of a need for use of narcotics during and after surgery. Recovery is usually quick and patients can resume their normal lives within a few short weeks,” says Dr. Phu.

Small incisions also mean fewer risks for the patient. “There are risks for any kind of surgery—including bleeding, blood clots or injuries to surrounding tissues or organs,” says Dr. Phu. “But these risks and complications are rare for laparoscopic and robotic surgery.”

When are laparoscopic and robotic surgery used?

Traditionally, laparoscopic surgery is used to examine and perform surgery on organs in the abdomen and pelvis. Because of the robot’s advanced technology, robotic surgery is equipped to handle more complex operations. Many different types of procedures can now be performed with robotic surgery, including procedures on the heart, joints, gastrointestinal system, prostate, head, neck and reproductive system.

“Robotic surgery is an advanced technique increasingly being adopted in all surgical specialties,” says Dr. Phu. “It is not appropriate to treat every condition, but your doctor will work with you and your surgeon to assess your needs and decide on the best course of action.”

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