The Difference between Invasive and Noninvasive Procedures

Doctors have a wide range of procedures, tests, and tools available for diagnosing and treating disease. Some of these procedures are more easily done and not as hard on the patient – while others are difficult and present greater risk to the patient. Unfortunately, the more difficult procedures are often necessary to help the patient.

In a very broad and general sense, procedures can be put in to two categories – invasive procedures and non-invasive procedures. What are the differences between these and why would you pick one over the other?

An invasive procedures is defined as a medical procedure which breaks the skin in some way. This is a huge category and includes just about all major surgery and many diagnostic tests. If it leaves a scar, it’s most likely an invasive procedure. Invasive procedures may be required to remove a tumor, repair a broken bone, or stop internal bleeding. Of course, that’s just three examples – there are literally dozens of other indications for invasive procedures.

Non-invasive procedures are also quite common. These are defined as any medical procedure which does not break the skin. Obviously, this is a massively large category. Imaging studies, including x-rays, ultrasound, MRI, and CT scans are all examples of non-invasive procedures. ECGs are also non-invasive.

Non-invasive procedures are not always just good for making a diagnosis (as in the examples above) – sometimes they are used as treatment. The best example of this is radiotherapy used to treat cancer. In this procedure, radiation is applied to an area of the body in an attempt to kill a cancerous tumor. There is no need to cut the patient as the radiation beam can be applied from the outside.

Aside from this example, there are dozens of types and sub-types of non-invasive procedures.

Doctors have another category of medical procedures – known as “minimally invasive”. Sometimes it is necessary to make an incision in a patient, but that incision is not large and doesn’t require a long healing time. These types of procedures are becoming more common.

Laproscopy is considered a “minimally invasive” procedure in most cases. Small incisions are made in the skin, and surgical tools are inserted in to the patient, but the incisions and tools are smaller than traditional instruments. Healing times are much shorter and recovery is much easier for these procedures.

Other common examples of minimally invasive procedures include endoscopy, colonoscopy, PET scans, angioplasty, coronary catheterization, and many others. Minimally invasive surgery and procedures are not without risks. There is still a chance of infection and other complications – although in many cases these risks are reduced. For specifics on a particular procedure, it’s best to talk to you doctor.