Monday, Nov. 03, 2008

Scarless Surgery

Correction Appended: Dec. 15, 2008

It may sound outlandish, but doctors are increasingly experimenting with "natural orifice" surgery, a new technique in which surgeons enter the body through existing openings such as the mouth, vagina and colon, instead of cutting through the skin. A team at the University of California at San Diego performed the first such appendectomy in the U.S. in March, using camera-fitted scopes to guide the removal of a woman's appendix through her vagina. The technique is also helping some gastric bypass patients whose stomach tissue has stretched out post-surgery; doctors insert a scope through the mouth and gather up the stretched folds to shrink the stomach back to a smaller size. The technique isn't completely incision-free — surgeons make small cuts through tissue inside the body — but by reducing incisions through the skin, it could reduce pain and infection and promote faster recovery for some common surgical procedures.

The original version of this story misstated that the first natural orifice surgery was performed at the University of California at San Diego this year. In fact, the first procedure was performed at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia in 2007, to remove a gallbladder. The UCSD procedure was the first such appendectomy.