Conditions & Treatments

In just the past ten years, the field of minimal access, minimally-invasive, or laparoscopic (lap-rah-sca'-pick) surgery has skyrocketed. Today, laparoscopic surgery is the standard of care, or operation of choice, for procedures such as cholecystectomy (gallbladder removal) or Nissen fundoplication (wrapping the stomach around the esophagus to correct GERD, or gastroesophageal reflux disease). Generally, the benefits of all the new laparoscopic procedures include less postoperative pain and therefore, less pain medication, faster healing for a quicker return home, and smaller, less noticeable scars after healing.

Minimal Access Surgery

The Division of General Surgery is dedicated to performing surgical procedures using minimal access techniques whenever possible, so that patients may enjoy faster recovery and fewer post-surgical complications. As such, the division has become a leader in laparoscopic, and endoscopic, surgery in the full range of subspecialties. Division surgeons include many of the most accomplished and proficient surgeons in the country, who routinely employ minimal access techniques in of most abdominal disorders, including hernias, and conditions of the stomach, intestines, gallbladder, and spleen.

To facilitate the continued application of minimal access techniques to patient care, the Division of General Surgery maintains several world-renowned laboratories devoted exclusively to research on minimal access techniques and outcomes.

What is Minimal Access Surgery?

Minimal access surgery is completed with one or more small incisions instead of a large incision. The surgeon passes a telescope with video camera through a small incision (usually only 1/4" long) into a body cavity. The surgeon then views the surgery on a TV monitor. Surgical instruments are then passed through other similar little incisions. The surgeon examines and operates on the area in question by viewing magnified images on a television. When the telescope is used to operate on the abdomen, the procedure is called laparoscopy. When used in the chest, the procedure is called thoracoscopy, and when used in a joint, it is called arthroscopy.


The introduction of minimal access surgery into common practice began in 1985, when laparoscopic cholecystectomy was first performed to remove a diseased gallbladder. In the immediate years thereafter, a small number of surgeons in the U.S. pioneered the development of laparoscopic techniques for this and other surgical applications. Recognizing the importance of their potential to improve patient care, Columbia University was one of the very first U.S. academic institutions to support the development of minimal access technologies and techniques. Columbia initiated key research protocols in the physiology and immunology of laparoscopic surgery, which provided critical data during the next decade. The compelling results of these studies clearly dictated the wisdom of applying minimal access techniques to more types of surgeries; hence the establishment of the NewYork-Presbyterian Minimal Access Surgery Center and expansion of its training facilities in 1998.

Today, the General Surgery Division's commitment to minimal access surgery is strengthened and complemented by the efforts of the NewYork-Presbyterian Minimal Access Surgery Center (MASC). MASC is a vibrant joint program of NewYork Weill Cornell Medical Center and Columbia University Medical Center, and performs over 4300 minimal access procedures annually.

Laparoscopic Surgery

The laparoscope, a fiber-optic telescope, is inserted through one port and attached to a camera. It sends images from the abdominal cavity to television monitors placed for easy viewing by all the operating room personnel. Thus, the surgeon and his or her assistants can view the abdominal cavity and its contents. Through the remaining ports, long-handled instruments are used to perform various procedures.

Endoscopic Surgery

Endoscopy is a minimally invasive diagnostic tool, used to view the inside of organs, inspect for abnormalities and take biopsies. A small camera and light source are mounted onto a flexible tube which can be inserted into the mouth (to inspect the esophagus, stomach and duodenum) or the anus (to inspect the large bowel).

Upper Endoscopy

Upper endoscopy is usually performed to evaluate symptoms of persistent upper abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, or difficulty swallowing. It is also the best test for finding the cause of bleeding from the upper gastrointestinal tract.

Upper endoscopy is more accurate than x-ray films for detecting inflammation, ulcers, or tumors of the esophagus, stomach and duodenum. Upper endoscopy can detect early cancer and can distinguish between benign and malignant conditions when biopsies of suspicious areas are obtained. Biopsies are taken for many reasons and do not necessarily mean that cancer is suspected.

Upper endoscopy is also used to treat conditions present in the upper gastrointestinal tract. A variety of instruments can be passed through the endoscope that allow many abnormalities to be treated directly with little or no discomfort, for example, stretching narrowed areas, removing polyps (usually benign growths) or swallowed objects, or treating upper gastrointestinal bleeding. Safe and effective endoscopic control of bleeding has reduced the need for transfusions and surgery in many patients.