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Depending on the reason for the hysterectomy, a surgeon may choose to remove all or only part of the uterus. Patients and health care providers sometimes use these terms inexactly, so it is important to clarify if the cervix and/or ovaries are removed:
In a supracervial or subtotal hysterectomy, a surgeon removes only the upper part of the uterus, keeping the cervix in place.
A total hysterectomy removes the whole uterus and cervix.
In a radical hysterectomy, a surgeon removes the whole uterus, tissue on the sides of the uterus, the cervix, and the top part of the vagina. Radical hysterectomy is generally only done when cancer is present.
The ovaries may also be removed -- a procedure called oopherectomy -- or may be left in place.
Surgical Techniques for Hysterectomy
Surgeons use different approaches for hysterectomy, depending on the surgeon’s experience, the reason for the hysterectomy, and a woman's overall health. The hysterectomy technique will partly determine healing time and the kind of scar, if any, that remains after the operation.
There are two approaches to surgery – a traditional or open surgery and surgery using a minimally invasive procedure or MIP.
Open Surgery Hysterectomy
An abdominal hysterectomy is an open surgery. This is the most common approach to hysterectomy, accounting for about 65% of all procedures.
To perform an abdominal hysterectomy, a surgeon makes a 5 to 7 inch incision, either up-and-down or side-to-side, across the belly. The surgeon then removes the uterus through this incision.
On average, a woman spends more than three days in the hospital following an abdominal hysterectomy. There is also, after healing, a visible scar at the location of the incision.
There are several approaches that can be used for an MIP hysterectomy:
Vaginal hysterectomy: The surgeon makes a cut in the vagina and removes the uterus through this incision. The incision is closed, leaving no visible scar.
Laparoscopic hysterectomy: This surgery is done using a laparoscope, which is a tube with a lighted camera, and surgical tools inserted through several small cuts made in the belly. The surgeon performs the hysterectomy from outside the body, viewing the operation on a video screen.
Laparoscopic-assisted vaginal hysterectomy: Using laparoscopic surgical tools, a surgeon removes the uterus through an incision in the vagina.
Robot-assisted laparoscopic hysterectomy: This procedure is similar to a laparoscopic hysterectomy, but the surgeon controls a sophisticated robotic system of surgical tools from outside the body. Advanced technology allows the surgeon to use natural wrist movements and view the hysterectomy on a three-dimensional screen.