BACKGROUND: The standard surgical approach to treat primary (pHPT) and secondary hyperparathyroidism (sHPT) used to be a cervicotomy with exploration of all four parathyroid glands. This access has been challenged recently by the introduction of minimally invasive techniques in order to achieve superior cosmesic results and to reduce theatre time. We analyzed the advantages and morbidities of these surgical aproaches. PATIENTS AND METHODS: Between 1997 and 2006 a total of 123 patients (109 with pHPT and 14 with sHPT) underwent parathyroidectomy at the ENT Department in Luzern. Ultrasonographic scanning was performed on 74 patients (68%), szintigraphy in 8 patients (7%) and both scanning methods in 27 patients (25%). 103 patients were available for follow-up. The indications for each technique were reviewed and outcome measures included serum Calcium and parathyroid hormone levels. RESULTS: Sensitivity for preoperative ultrasonographic and scintigraphic scanning was 67% and 65% for identification of the correct quadrant and 74% and 71% for identification of the correct side. A bilateral exploration was performed until June 2001 for all patients. Thereafter, a minimally invasive approach was chosen for patients with pHPT, whereas patients with sHPT still require bilateral exploration. Adequate preoperative localization was a prerequisite for a minimally invasive technique. Mean postoperative serum Kalzium levels were within the normal range, independently of the surgical technique and disease. Two patients developed hypercalcemia after an initially successful operation. CONCLUSIONS: Review of the literature confirms the shift from bilateral exploration towards minimally invasive techniques. The incidence of persistent or recurrent disease as well as the rate of complications seems comparable. Operation time for minimally invasive techniques is reduced in the hands of an experienced surgeon. However, proper preoperative localization of the diseased parathyroid gland is not always possible and the expenses of intraoperative parathyroid hormone measures do not lower the overall costs. Considerable experience and a multidisiplinary approach (endocrinologist, surgeon, pathologist) is required to adopt efficient minimally invasive techniques. As for sHPT, bilateral exploration remains the treatment of choice.