Expert Commentary

Should we abandon minimally invasive surgery for cervical cancer?

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Recent data infer that, as a specialty, we should consider an open surgical approach



A minimally invasive approach for gynecologic surgery increasingly has become the surgical modality of choice (vs open surgery) due to decreased perioperative and postoperative morbidity for many gynecologic cancers.1-3 This has included radical hysterectomy for cervical cancers. Until recently, retrospective evidence supported its use, suggesting decreased perioperative and postoperative complications with similar survival outcomes between patients undergoing minimally invasive and open radical hysterectomy.4,5 In November 2018, two new studies were published in the New England Journal of Medicine, and another study was presented at the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) annual meeting challenging this practice paradigm. These studies reveal a higher risk of disease recurrence and decreased overall survival with minimally invasive surgery (MIS) compared with open surgery for Stages IA–IB1 cervical cancer. These findings have resulted in a change in practice nationwide.

RCT findings astonish specialty

The first study, the Laparoscopic Approach to Cervical Cancer (LACC) trial, authored by Ramirez and colleagues was a noninferiority randomized controlled trial evaluating MIS versus open radical hysterectomy for patients with cervical cancer (Stage 1A–1B1) conducted from 2008–2017.6 The primary outcome was disease-free survival at 4.5 years. Secondary outcomes included recurrence and overall survival rates. Power analysis suggested a sample size of 740 patients to provide greater than 80% power with a noninferiority margin of -7.2% between disease-free rates of the two groups. However, the study was closed prematurely at enrollment of 631 patients (85% recruitment) by the Data Safety Monitoring Committee due to the astounding differences in survival between the two groups.

The rate of disease-free survival at 4.5 years was 86.0% with MIS and 96% with open surgery. There were 27 recurrences (8.5%) in the MIS group and only 7 (2.2%) in the open-surgery group, accounting for a hazard ratio (HR) for disease recurrence or death from cervical cancer of 3.74 (95% confidence interval [CI], 1.63–8.58). This difference remained after adjusting for confounding variables. There were 22 deaths—19 (5.9%) in the MIS group and 3 (0.1%) in the open-surgery group (HR, 6.56). Although patient characteristics between groups appeared to be similar, more than one-third of patients in each group had missing data regarding histology at the time of surgery, grade, tumor size, lymphovascular space invasion, and depth of invasion. Interestingly, intraoperative, perioperative, and postoperative complications between the two groups were similar (with rates of 11%, about 40%, and about 25%, respectively).

Surprising findings continue in NEJM

The second study, by Melamed and colleagues, was a retrospective cohort study using data from the National Cancer Database (NCDB) and the Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) database evaluating women with stage IA2 or IB1 cervical cancer who underwent either minimally invasive or open radical hysterectomy between 2010 and 2013.7 The primary outcome was time to death.

Participant characteristics. A total of 2,461 women were included: 49.8% underwent MIS and 50.2% underwent open surgery. According to the raw data, patients undergoing MIS were more likely to be white, privately insured, reside in an area associated with higher income, undergo surgery at a nonacademic institution, have adenocarcinoma, and have smaller, lower-grade tumors. After propensity-score weighting, demographic and clinical characteristics were similar between groups. Median follow-up was 45 months.

Results. A total of 164 deaths occurred: 94 in the MIS and 70 in the open-surgery group. The risk of death during study follow-up was 9.1% in the MIS group versus 5.3% in the open-surgery group, and women who underwent MIS had shorter overall survival (P = .002; HR, 1.65; 95% CI, 1.22–2.22). Mortality rates remained higher in the MIS group after adjusting for adjuvant therapy (HR, 1.62; 95% CI, 1.2–2.19). However, the HR for death with MIS was not statistically significant in a subgroup analysis evaluating tumors 2 cm in size or less (HR, 1.46; 95% CI, 0.70–3.02). The authors demonstrated that the adoption of MIS for radical hysterectomy corresponded to a drop in the 4-year survival rate of 0.8% per year (P = .01).

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