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Elective surgery is a type of surgery that may or may not be medically necessary but can be scheduled in advance because it is not urgent. It is important to realize that elective is not the same as optional, and just because a procedure is not dependent on time when it is scheduled does not mean that it can be put off indefinitely. Commonly, people think of plastic surgery when hearing of elective surgery, but organ donations, mastectomies, and tonsillectomies can all be elective surgeries of various degrees of urgency. These procdures are sometimes quite serious and risky, and because the patient has time to anticipate the surgery can be the subject of significant anxiety.
Most surgeries that are performed are elective surgeries involving planning and scheduling the surgery in advance. When a surgery can be scheduled in advance but absolutely must be done to preserve the patient's life, the procedure is considered semi-elective. These types of procedures are contrasted to urgent and emergency surgeries, which must be done as soon as possible. Elective surgery is performed on many different body parts and to fix many different disorders, but all these surgeries have a lack of urgency in common.
Many of the different surgeries considered under this category can make patients more comfortable or may prevent problems later on. For example, hemorrhoid surgery is usually elective but can prevent serious pain and bleeding as well as risks of complications. Some surgeries of this type can even reduce the risk of cancer later in life, as is the case for preemptive mastectomies in women with a family history of breast cancer.
Another type of elective surgery includes procedures done purely for subjective aesthetic reasons. Cosmetic surgery can improve the look of almost any body part and may involve restructuring the face, increasing breast size, or reducing fat. Elective dental surgery is sometimes considered cosmetic surgery as well.
Sometimes, a healthy person might undergo elective surgery in order to help another person, as is the case with organ donations. This procedure may be urgent from the perspective of the sick patient. Even so, it is typically considered elective for the healthy patient.
It is important to remember that elective surgeries are still dangerous operations and that complications can arise even in relatively simple procedures. While most procedures are safe and uneventful, some can have unforeseen problems that can result in paralysis, permanent nerve damage, or even death. For these reasons, surgery is typically treated as a last resort, and frivolous plastic surgeries are not considered wise.