OBJECTIVE Notwithstanding its widely perceived advantages, laparoscopic appendectomy has not yet met with universal acceptance. The aim of the present work is to illustrate retrospectively the results of a case-control experience with laparoscopic versus open appendectomy carried out at our institution. METHODS Between January 1993 and November 2000, 555 patients (M:F = 210:345; mean age 25.2 +/- 15 years) underwent emergency or urgent appendectomy, or both. Of them, 322 (52%) were operated on laparoscopically, and 233 (48%) were treated via conventional surgery, according to the presence of a well-trained surgical team. RESULTS The laparoscopic group conversion rate was 3.1% (10/322) and was mainly due to the presence of dense intraabdominal adhesions. Major intraoperative complications ranged as high as 0.3% (1/322) and 0%, respectively, in the laparoscopic and conventional groups (P=ns). Major postoperative complications were 1.6% (5/312) vs 0.8% (2/243), respectively (P=ns). Postoperative mortality was 0.3% (1/312) and 0.4% (1/243) in the laparoscopic and conventional subsets of patients. Reinterventions were 0.9% (3/322) in the laparoscopic patients versus nil in the open group (P=ns). Minor postoperative complications were observed in 0.6% (2/312) and 6.5% (16/243) of patients, respectively, in the laparoscopy and open surgery groups, and consisted mainly of wound infections (P=0.001). Flatus passage and hospitalization were significantly more rapid among the laparoscopic patients. The greater diagnostic accuracy of laparoscopy allowed the diagnosis of concurrent diseases in 12% (30/254) versus 1.5% (3/199) of patients with histology proven appendicitis treated via laparoscopy versus laparotomy (P<0.01). Similarly, among those patients without gross or microscopic evidence of appendicitis, or both gross and microscopic evidence, concurrent diseases were detected in 57.3% (39/68) of laparoscopic patients versus 8.8% (3/34) in the conventional ones (P<0.01). CONCLUSION Even if limited by its retrospective nature, the present experience shows that laparoscopic appendectomy is as safe and effective as conventional surgery, has a higher diagnostic yield, causes less trauma, and offers a more rapid postoperative recovery. Such features make laparoscopy a challenging alternative to laparotomy in premenopausal women referred for urgent abdominal or pelvic surgery, or both.