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More deaths seen with less-invasive cervical cancer surgery

New research with alarming results is changing the way doctors treat cervical cancer. Two studies published in the New England Journal of Medicine find that laparoscopic surgery, a less invasive procedure that involves a small incision in the abdomen, led to a higher risk of death from cervical cancer compared to patients who had a traditional hysterectomy.

In fact, after the less-invasive surgery the cancer was four times more likely to return.

In light of the results, the researchers say it is no longer appropriate for doctors to perform laparoscopic surgery to treat cervical cancer.

"At this point, we would recommend only using open surgery to perform a radical hysterectomy for cervical cancer," co-senior author Dr. Shohreh Shahabi, chief of gynecologic oncology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and a Northwestern Medicine physician, said in a statement.

Some hospitals, including Johns Hopkins Medicine in Maryland and MD Anderson Cancer Center in Texas, have now switched back to the traditional type of surgery.

Less-invasive surgery means shorter hospitalization stays and less risk of infection, CBS News medical contributor Dr. David Agus explains. Open surgery is performed with a large incision in the middle of the abdomen and recovery from this surgery generally requires several days in the hospital. 

Agus says doctors don't know exactly why higher death and recurrence rates were seen in this study, but there are a few theories.

"We think it's somehow how you manipulate the tissue when you do this, or the fact that you have to blow up the abdomen with air while you do the surgery so you can see things," he told "CBS This Morning." "One of those actually causes the cancer to behave differently. We're seeing here a negative effect on patients and it's pretty scary."

The FDA regulates medical technology but not how it is used. Agus says as a result, the medical community needs "to take a step back and wait for studies to show that it's safe and the outcome is right before we use technologies in patients across the country."

"There's a move now to do things quicker with technology. We have to step back and say does this make sense for the cancer," he continued. "Obviously, if you're a patient, you want the best cancer outcome. You want to be alive to play with your grandchildren. You don't care about an extra day or two in the hospital."