A second approach to hysterectomy, vaginal hysterectomy, involves removal of the uterus through the vagina, without any external incision or subsequent scarring. Surgeons most often use this minimally-invasive approach if the patient’s condition is benign (non-cancerous), when the uterus is normal size and the condition is limited to the uterus.
In laparoscopic hysterectomy, the uterus is removed either vaginally or through small incisions made in the abdomen. The surgeon can see the target anatomy on a standard 2D video monitor thanks to a miniaturized camera, inserted into the abdomen through the small incisions. A laparoscopic approach offers surgeons better visualization of affected structures than either vaginal or abdominal hysterectomy alone.
While minimally-invasive vaginal and laparoscopic hysterectomies offer obvious potential advantages to patients over open abdominal hysterectomy – including reduced risk for complications, a shorter hospitalization and faster recovery – there are inherent drawbacks. With vaginal hysterectomy, surgeons are challenged by a small working space and lack of view to the pelvic organs. Additional conditions can make the vaginal approach difficult, including when the patient has:
- A narrow pubic arch (an area between the hip bones where they come together)2
- Thick adhesions due to prior pelvic surgery, such as C-section3
- Severe endometriosis4
- Non-localized cancer (cancer outside the uterus) requiring more extensive tissue removal, including lymph nodes
With laparoscopic hysterectomy, surgeons may be limited in their dexterity and by 2D visualization, potentially reducing the surgeon's precision and control when compared with traditional abdominal surgery.