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In Surgery, what is an Excision?

Tricia Christensen
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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In surgery, the terms excision and to excise are used frequently. As often as they may stated, they are perhaps more often performed. An excision is very simply whole removal of an organ or mass, such as a tumor. These are compared to other surgical techniques like resection and biopsy.

The idea of excision may be connected to surgical cutting, but it’s possible to excise something without a scalpel. In fact, a number of other cutting techniques are frequently used to remove something. Laser, sound, or some forms of electricity could be used instead of sharp steely instruments. Each different tool, including the scalpel may be determined by type of surgery and/or surgeon preference.

Another difference in modern surgical techniques may be that an excision is minimally invasive. For instance, an appendectomy today could be done through a smaller incision called a laparotomy. Tonsillectomies tend not to even require an exterior incision and removal the tonsils straight from the mouth. Gallbladder excision might be done laparoscopically, through a very small hole made in the body that doesn’t require much more than a stitch to close.

This variety of potential methods for how to approach a surgery are then compared with exactly what happens at the time surgery occurs. Typically the idea of full mass or full organ removal is tied directly to the definition of excision. If only partial removal of tumor or organ is planned, as might occur during the complicated Whipple procedure, this is not excising organs, though some, like the duodenum, could be fully excised. Instead, most of what is occurring in a Whipple is resection of organs or partial removal of them.

Understanding distinction between excision and resection can be vital. If a person is told that a surgery will resect a tumor, for example, one question that might be important is: Why not excise it? Occasionally removing a full tumor isn’t possible, but patients should certainly understand the implications of a surgeon being unable to fully remove something.

The other term that gets compared to excise and resect is biopsy. When a biopsy occurs, a small amount of tissue is taken, and often subsequently tested to determine its nature. This is very different than either removing all of something or part of something; it’s just removing a small amount of something. Yet depending on type of biopsy performed and its results, it might also mean that someone could need an excision or resection in the near future.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen , Writer
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a The Health Board contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.

Discussion Comments

By julies — On Nov 01, 2011

If you ever have a choice to have a surgery done laparoscopically or have a surgical excision, I would go with the scope every time.

Both my dad and I have had our gall bladders removed, and his was done several years earlier than mine and was removed by an excision.

Even though it got the job done, his recovery time was much longer and more painful than mine was.

When I had my gall bladder removed, it was done with a laparoscope, and the whole process was so much easier.

Tricia Christensen

Tricia Christensen


With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a The Health Board contributor, Tricia...
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