To assess whether a 4 mm scleral tunnel incision with a 1.5 mm internal corneal lip (three-step procedure) causes increased endothelial cell loss and damage to the cornea, we retrospectively evaluated the outcomes of 20 patients (40 eyes) who had a standard 4 mm scleral tunnel incision (two-step procedure) in one eye followed by a three-step incision in the second eye, with in situ phacoemulsification and insertion of a foldable silicone lens in each eye. Mean phacoemulsification time was 2.4 +/- 1.1 minutes for the two-step incisions and 3.4 +/- 1.4 minutes for the three-step incisions. Preoperative and postoperative endothelial cell counts were obtained to determine the effects of surgery on the corneal endothelium. Although the three-step procedure had a trend toward increased endothelial cell loss from the central corneal region compared with the two-step incision, the result was neither clinically nor statistically significant. The difference between the three-step and two-step incisions in postoperative endothelial cell counts from the superior corneal region was statistically significant. The difference in postoperative counts from the inferior region was not statistically significant. Although the three-step 4 mm incision does seem to affect the corneal endothelium, its clinical significance is unknown.