Scar-free surgery uses body openings

We've come a long way from the days when surgeons sometimes had to cut someone open just to see how things looked. Today, a new breed of procedures are taking less-invasive surgery to a new level, conducting procedures that enter the body through "natural orifices" like the mouth rather than requiring an incision. Critics note that the procedures have yet to be perfected, and that it might not be smart to use such approaches when minimally-invasive laparoscopic alternatives already exist. However, most industry-watchers believe that these scarless surgeries will eventually become the norm for some procedures.

This approach, known as NOTES--natural orifice transluminal endoscopic surgery--hopes to go beyond existing arthroscopic and laparoscopic techniques. It involves entering the body through natural openings with flexible endoscopes. First performed on humans in India in 2005, today there have been NOTES procedures on more than 400 patients worldwide, though largely in South America and India. Many involved removing gallbladders through the mouth or vagina, but surgeons have done some appendectomies and are experimenting with stomach surgery for obesity.

Surgeons are predicting that the procedures could be widely available within two to five years, but agree that this won't happen until considerable research takes place. The industry will need to develop better instruments to reduce the time involved in the procedure, as well as to avoid the need for outside incisions--which are still sometimes done to help the surgeon monitor their work.

To learn more about this new type of surgery:
- read this Washington Post article