A laparoscopy is a procedure used to examine the abdomen or pelvis using a laparoscope, which is a thin, tube-like instrument with a light and lens.

Why a laparoscopy is done

A laparoscopy may be done to diagnose cancer. It may be used to:

  • examine the abdominal and pelvic organs, including the lymph nodes
  • take samples of tissue to examine under a microscope
  • find out how far cancer has spread before making treatment decisions
  • find the cause of internal bleeding, blockages or fluid buildup

A laparoscopy may also be used in situations other than diagnosing cancer, such as looking for cysts, pelvic inflammatory disease or endometriosis. It may also be used to remove certain organs in the pelvis and abdomen like the uterus, ovaries, gallbladder or appendix.

How a laparoscopy is done

A laparoscopy is done in a hospital operating room while you are under general anesthetic (you will be unconscious). Depending on what is done during a laparoscopy, the procedure will take 30 to 90 minutes.

Your healthcare team will give you any special instructions before the test. Do not eat or drink anything for at least 8 hours before the test. Check with your healthcare team if you need to stop taking any medicines before the laparoscopy. Don’t stop taking any of your medicines without talking to your healthcare team.

The doctor makes a small cut (incision) in the abdomen near the bellybutton to put the laparoscope into the abdomen. Other small cuts may be made for other instruments, if they are needed.

Gas is injected into the abdomen to make it expand. This gives the doctor more room to see the organs in the abdomen. During the laparoscopy, samples of tissue may be removed to be examined. Other procedures may be done, such as to remove or repair an organ, remove cysts or scar tissue or stop bleeding.

At the end of the laparoscopy, the instruments are removed and the gas is drained from the abdomen. The cuts are closed with stitches or a small bandage is put over the area.

Your healthcare team may give you pain medicines and antibiotics to prevent infection.

You may go home after you have recovered from the laparoscopy, often the same day. Someone else must drive you home. Your doctor will tell you when you can get back to your normal activities. Do not lift heavy objects or do strenuous work until your doctor tells you it is safe.

Side effects

The side effects of a laparoscopy include:

  • drowsiness or weakness
  • pain in the shoulder from the gas used during a laparoscopy
  • pain in the area of the cut
  • feeling bloated
  • inability to urinate
  • changes in bowel movements

As with any surgery, a laparoscopy has some risks, including:

  • reaction to the anesthetic
  • damage to organs or blood vessels
  • bleeding
  • blood clots
  • infection

What the results mean

A laparoscopy can help find out if there is cancer and how far it may have spread. It can help diagnose the following types of cancer:

  • ovarian
  • fallopian tube
  • liver
  • pancreatic
  • colon
  • esophageal
  • small intestine
  • stomach
  • uterine
  • peritoneal mesothelioma

A laparoscopy can also help diagnose other cancer that has spread to the abdominal and pelvic organs.

What happens if the result is abnormal

Depending on the results, your doctor will decide if you need more tests, any treatment or follow-up care.

Special considerations for children

Preparing children before a test or procedure can lower anxiety, increase cooperation and help them develop coping skills. Preparation includes explaining to children what will happen during the test, including what they will see, feel, hear, taste or smell.

Preparing a child for a laparoscopy depends on the age and experience of the child. Find out more about helping your child cope with tests and treatment.

Expert review and references

Medical disclaimer

The information that the Canadian Cancer Society provides does not replace your relationship with your doctor. The information is for your general use, so be sure to talk to a qualified healthcare professional before making medical decisions or if you have questions about your health.

We do our best to make sure that the information we provide is accurate and reliable but cannot guarantee that it is error-free or complete.

The Canadian Cancer Society is not responsible for the quality of the information or services provided by other organizations and mentioned on, nor do we endorse any service, product, treatment or therapy.

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