Advantages and disadvantages of 3-dimensional printing in surgery: A systematic review

Surgery. 2016 Jun;159(6):1485-1500. doi: 10.1016/j.surg.2015.12.017. Epub 2016 Jan 30.


Background: Three-dimensional (3D) printing is becoming increasingly important in medicine and especially in surgery. The aim of the present work was to identify the advantages and disadvantages of 3D printing applied in surgery.

Methods: We conducted a systematic review of articles on 3D printing applications in surgery published between 2005 and 2015 and identified using a PubMed and EMBASE search. Studies dealing with bioprinting, dentistry, and limb prosthesis or those not conducted in a hospital setting were excluded.

Results: A total of 158 studies met the inclusion criteria. Three-dimensional printing was used to produce anatomic models (n = 113, 71.5%), surgical guides and templates (n = 40, 25.3%), implants (n = 15, 9.5%) and molds (n = 10, 6.3%), and primarily in maxillofacial (n = 79, 50.0%) and orthopedic (n = 39, 24.7%) operations. The main advantages reported were the possibilities for preoperative planning (n = 77, 48.7%), the accuracy of the process used (n = 53, 33.5%), and the time saved in the operating room (n = 52, 32.9%); 34 studies (21.5%) stressed that the accuracy was not satisfactory. The time needed to prepare the object (n = 31, 19.6%) and the additional costs (n = 30, 19.0%) were also seen as important limitations for routine use of 3D printing.

Conclusion: The additional cost and the time needed to produce devices by current 3D technology still limit its widespread use in hospitals. The development of guidelines to improve the reporting of experience with 3D printing in surgery is highly desirable.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Models, Anatomic
  • Printing, Three-Dimensional*
  • Prostheses and Implants
  • Surgical Procedures, Operative*