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Br J Surg. 2012 May;99(5):613-20. doi: 10.1002/bjs.8708. Epub 2012 Feb 24.

Systematic review and meta-analysis of cutting diathermy versus scalpel for skin incision.

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Department of Surgery, University of Auckland, Auckland, New Zealand.



Skin incisions have traditionally been made using a scalpel. Cutting diathermy, a more recent alternative, is thought to increase the risk of infection, impair healing and decrease cosmesis. Recent studies suggest otherwise, claiming that diathermy may offer potential advantages with respect to blood loss, incision time and postoperative pain. The aim of this meta-analysis was to compare skin incisions made by either scalpel or cutting diathermy.


A systematic literature search and review was performed for studies published from January 1980 until June 2011. Randomized clinical trials comparing scalpel and cutting diathermy for skin incisions of any operation were included. Primary outcomes included wound complication rate, blood loss, incision times and pain scores.


Fourteen randomized trials met the criteria for inclusion in the meta-analysis, providing outcome data for a total of 2541 patients (1267 undergoing skin incision by cutting diathermy and 1274 by scalpel). The median length of follow-up across all studies was 6 weeks (range 4 days to 19 months). Compared with a scalpel incision, cutting diathermy resulted in significantly less blood loss (mean difference 0.72 ml/cm(2); P < 0.001) and shorter incision times (mean difference 36 s; P < 0.001), with no differences in the wound complication rate (odds ratio 0.87; P = 0.29) or pain score at 24 h (mean difference 0.89; P = 0.05).


Skin incisions made by cutting diathermy are quicker and associated with less blood loss than those made by scalpel, and there are no differences in the rate of wound complications or postoperative pain.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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