Tremendous growth in the use of minimally invasive techniques has occurred over the past decade. This was made possible by developments in technology and was fueled by patient demands for less painful operations and quicker postoperative recovery.
Almost all general surgical procedures can be performed using minimally invasive techniques. The greatest benefit is achieved in operations where the trauma of access exceeds that of the procedure. Procedures in the chest, upper abdomen, and pelvis, especially those not requiring tissue removal, are ideally suited for minimally invasive techniques. Conversely, other procedures may have less obvious benefits when performed with minimally invasive techniques, especially if a large specimen is to be removed. To be a proficient laparoscopist, one must become familiar with a new set of techniques and instruments, as well as knowing when to apply them and when to convert to an open operation.
As in all surgery, choosing the right operation for the patient is the first step. Since all laparoscopic surgery of the abdomen requires the use of general anesthesia, the ability to tolerate anesthesia is an absolute requirement. Patients with impaired exercise tolerance or a history of shortness of breath will need a preoperative consultation with a cardiologist or pulmonologist. Patients with severe carbon dioxide (CO2) retention can be difficult to manage intraoperatively because the use of carbon dioxide for pneumoperitoneum exacerbates the condition. By increasing the minute ventilation and decreasing the CO2 pneumoperitoneum from 15 to 8–10 mm Hg, one can control metabolic acidosis. Rarely, when these measures are ineffective at controlling hypercarbia, we have resorted to using nitrous oxide (N2O) for peritoneal insufflation. While not suppressing combustion (as does CO2), N2O supports combustion no more than air and has been proven safe for laparoscopic use. A single blind randomized trial has demonstrated that N2O pneumoperitoneum is associated with decreased postoperative pain compared with CO2.1
When deciding if a patient is a suitable candidate for a laparoscopic procedure, it is important to assess patient or procedure characteristics that will lengthen the operative time sufficiently to nullify the benefits of laparoscopy. If the laparoscopic operation takes substantially longer than the open equivalent or is more risky, then it is not prudent to proceed laparoscopically. A history of a prior open procedure or multiple open procedures can make access to the abdomen difficult and will be discussed in detail later in this chapter. Adhesions and scarring in the surgical field from prior surgery can make laparoscopic surgery very difficult and may require use of many novel dissecting and coagulating tools. Operating on patients with severe obesity is challenging specifically because torque on transabdominal ports leads to surgeon fatigue and diminishes surgical dexterity. In addition, the long distance from the insufflated abdominal wall to the abdominal organs can make laparoscopic surgery a “far reach.” Special long ports ...