Conference Coverage

Robotic and lap surgery achieve similar negative margins for rectal resection



BALTIMORE – A head-to-head comparison of robotic and laparoscopic surgery for locally advanced rectal cancer has found that the operations achieve similar outcomes in terms of composite negative margins, overall survival, and readmissions, but that robotic surgery is associated with lower rates of conversion to open surgery and shorter hospital stays, according to an analysis of cases in the National Cancer Database presented at the annual meeting of the Society of American Gastrointestinal and Endoscopic Surgeons.

Dr. M. Benjamin Hopkins of Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tenn.

Dr. M. Benjamin Hopkins

“The gold standard for how we’re taking care of our patients, of course, is how we’re doing with the cancer survival, and we found no difference for overall survival in the robotic arm and the laparoscopic arm,” said M. Benjamin Hopkins, MD, of Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tenn. He reported on a retrospective review of 7,616 operations for rectal adenocarcinoma in the National Cancer Database from 2010 to 2014. The study population included 2,472 (32%) robotic procedures. The hazard ratio for 5-year overall survival was 0.87 (P = .18), Dr. Hopkins noted, with virtually identical Kaplan-Meier survival curves between the two approaches.

The negative margin rates were also similar between the two groups: 93.7% for the robotic patients and 92.9% for the laparoscopic cohort (odds ratio 0.86, P = .23), Dr. Hopkins noted. Readmission rates were 9% and 8%, respectively (odds ratio 1.02, P = .44).

There were two significant differences in outcomes between the two groups: The conversion rate to open surgery for the robotic group “was about half that from what we saw with laparoscopic surgery,” he said – 8% vs. 15%; and “a slightly decreased length of stay” in the robotic group – 6.3 vs. 6.7 days (P less than .001).

Dr. Hopkins noted that the science supporting robotic surgery for rectal resection is still somewhat nascent, pointing to the ROLARR randomized trial, which showed conversion rates similar to those of open between the two minimally invasive approaches (8.1% for robotic and 12.2% for laparoscopy [P = .16] JAMA. 2017; 318[16]:1569-80). “Surgeons in this study were still on their learning curve, and what the results showed was that among surgeons, even with varied experience, robotic surgery was [equal] to laparoscopic surgery in relation to conversion rates and composite margin for cancer specimens,” he said of the ROLARR trial.

That led to the premise for his group’s study. “The hypothesis that we had going into this study was that we are able to get a better composite negative margin with robotic surgery as opposed to laparoscopic surgery, which would then translate into improved cancer survival for our patients,” he said. Like the ROLARR trial, the 2010-2014 National Cancer Database dataset Dr. Hopkins and colleagues used includes a window for the learning curve, he added.

“One of the questions that always comes at us from hospital administration and from insurance companies is whether or not there’s a cost benefit for the patient: What is the value to the patient?” Dr. Hopkins noted. “I’d like to see future studies where we’re looking at this value and, as we decrease our operative time and anesthesia costs, and hopefully some decreased cost in the instrumentation, we start to see some more benefits as we get more facile with robotic surgery.”

Dr. Hopkins has no financial relationships to disclose.

SOURCE: Hopkins B et al. SAGES 2019. Session SS13; abstract S058

CORRECTION 5/14/2109 : The hazard ratio for 5-year overall survival and p-value were updated.

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