What Are the Different Types of Exploratory Surgery?

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  • Written By: Patti Kate
  • Edited By: W. Everett
  • Last Modified Date: 09 November 2019
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When a physician cannot make a definitive diagnosis for a patient, he may perform an exploratory operation. If a patient is suffering from health issues that cannot be diagnosed, exploratory surgery will involve opening up an area of the body to explore for clues. These procedures can be used to diagnose cancer, sports injuries, or internal injuries suffered in accidents such as car crashes.

One type of exploratory surgery performed with a camera is known as laparoscopic surgery. The camera may be inserted into the abdomen, pelvic area, or other region, enabling surgeons to get a better view of disease or trauma. A surgeon may also perform exploratory surgery on a patient who has received injuries resulting in internal bleeding or a hematoma. In some cases, exploratory surgery performed on an unborn baby may be necessary if a deformity or other life threatening condition is suspected.

Perhaps the most common type of exploratory operation is one performed on cancer patients. This may be helpful for physicians to check for recurrence of cancerous tumors, even after the patient has received radiation treatment.

Exploratory surgery for a condition known as endometriosis may be performed on women of child-bearing age. Laparoscopic surgery for endometriosis enables a surgeon to view the pelvic area to search for cysts or other problems. Endometriosis may prevent women from becoming pregnant, and exploratory surgery to check for and reverse this condition may help some women conceive.


Although the use of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) may enable physicians to make an accurate diagnosis, there are cases where an MRI may fail to detect certain tumors or other problems. Some individuals who have suffered from knee injuries may opt to have exploratory surgery when an MRI is unable to detect tears that could be causing pain and immobility. This type of surgery may also be performed on patients with shoulder injuries. During surgery, a surgeon may repair tears to tendons or tissue.

Surgeons often perform exploratory surgery on professional athletes. This typically includes surgery to detect problems involving joints, muscles, tendons, and tissue. Elbows, wrists, and knees are common areas of injury for those who participate in sports and may need surgery to accurately diagnose the problem.

When a child has swallowed a foreign object that becomes lodged in the digestive tract, serious complications may occur. In such a case, a surgeon may perform an exploratory operation to check for obstructions of the intestines. The surgery is generally a last resort when an ultrasound has not produced a conclusive diagnosis.


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Post 2

@SarahSon-- I went through something similar when I had a hysterectomy. I had several issues they were concerned about, so while they were doing the hysterectomy, they also looked around to see what else was going on.

Thankfully this was a laparoscopic hysterectomy and the camera was able to take pictures and give them a clear view of the entire area. It can be unsettling going into a surgery like this.

My mind always thinks the worse and I was scared they would find some kind of cancer. I think the recovery time from the surgery was better than worrying about what they would find during the surgery. Thankfully, everything else looked OK, and I have felt a lot better.

Post 1

When I had a ruptured appendix, they did not know for sure what was wrong with me, and they basically did exploratory surgery on me.

This was not done with a laparoscope, so there was a long healing process after the surgery. Once they opened me up, they discovered my appendix had ruptured, but somehow all the infection was contained in one small area behind my colon.

It was kind of scary going into this surgery, not knowing for sure what they would find. Even though a ruptured appendix is a serious problem, I know it could have been a lot worse.

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