Chinese surgeons claim taking out just the gallstones without removing the gallbladder works well for most patients.
There were 65 patients with gallstones, 61 of whom underwent successful minimally invasive surgery for removal of just the stones leaving the gallbladder in place. The other four patients had laparoscopic cholecystectomies for various technical reasons. After an average follow-up of 26 months, the stone recurrence rate was 4.9% (3 cases).
Not mentioned in the abstract but noted in the methods section of the full article is that all patients were given a 3-month course of ursodiol postoperatively. The authors said it "adjusts the abnormal lipid metabolism in the gut-liver axis and prevents stone recurrence." This statement contains some truth up until the word "and." It's not clear how a short course of ursodiol would help.
Before the advent of laparoscopic cholecystectomy, doctors tried dissolution with ursodiol as a primary treatment. It worked 30-80% of the time for pure cholesterol stones, not those that were pigmented or calcified. About 50% of the time the gallstones recurred after the medication was stopped if the follow-up was long enough, that is, at least 7 years. [I had to go back to 1988 for this reference.]
Well over 100 years ago when open gallbladder surgery was first attempted, surgeons soon learned that removing the stones was inadequate treatment due to a high rate of recurrence.
Since the gallstone removal procedure involved general anesthesia and laparoscopy with two 10 mm and two 5 mm ports anyway, it makes absolutely no sense to just remove the stones. Most laparoscopic cholecystectomies are done with one 10 mm and three 5 mm ports so there is one less large incision which decreases the risk of postoperative hernias.
Here are some more issues.
Preoperatively, only 26 of the patients in the series had biliary colic. Gallstones with "atypical upper gastrointestinal symptoms" were present in 34, and 5 had no symptoms. Surgeons in the US generally would not have operated on patients in the latter two categories.
No mention was made of the duration of the operation, which involves laparoscopy with the 4 ports as noted above, insertion of a choledochoscope into the gallbladder, grasping the stones with a basket an unstated number of times, irrigation, and suture closure of the gallbladder wall.
The authors also that said except for the three recurrences of stones, gallbladder function was normal postoperatively. This was determined by ultrasonography after a fatty meal which took place every 6 months postop.
The three reoperations were done when stones were found by the ultrasound. Of those three, the authors said, "One patient remained asymptomatic, 1 patient experienced biliary colic, and the other patient had non-specific upper gastrointestinal symptoms (flatulence and dyspepsia)."
I don't see this procedure catching on here in the US. Do you?