Expert Commentary

Minimally invasive surgery for cervical cancer: Is surgeon volume a factor?

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Could surgeon volume account for some of the findings of the LACC trial (which indicated better outcomes for open versus minimally invasive hysterectomy for early-stage cervical cancer)? New data say probably not.



The role of minimally invasive surgery for early-stage cervical cancer has been the subject of heated debate since the presentation of the results of the Laparoscopic Approach to Cervical Cancer (LACC) Trial at the Society of Gynecologic Oncology Annual Meeting on Women’s Cancer in 2018. This was an international, randomized, phase 3 trial comparing minimally invasive radical hysterectomy (MH) to open radical hysterectomy (OH) in the treatment of early-stage cervical cancer. The trial was closed early by the study’s Data and Safety Monitoring Committee due to an imbalance of deaths between the groups, with a higher rate in the minimally invasive arm. The final results, which were largely unexpected by the medical community, showed that the disease-free survival (DFS) at 4.5 years was 86.0% in the MH arm and 96.5% in the OH arm, which was a larger difference than their noninferiority cutoff of -7.2 percentage points.1 Results of an epidemiologic study, which used data from the Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) program and the National Cancer Database, also were presented at this meeting, and they reinforced the findings of the LACC trial.2

The combined results have caused significant concern and confusion from the medical community regarding the clinical implication that minimally invasive surgery may be an unacceptable approach for radical hysterectomy in cervical cancer. Prior to this study, retrospective data supported similar outcomes between the two approaches.3 Additionally, robotic surgery has made radical hysterectomy an option for those with a higher body mass index, as an open radical hysterectomy can be technically challenging in larger patients and result in a higher rate of adverse outcomes.

LACC trial questioned by US surgeons

Many in the United States have questioned the design and conclusions of the LACC trial. This trial was conducted primarily outside of North America and utilized conventional laparoscopic surgery 85% of the time as opposed to robotic surgery. Additionally, the found difference in DFS between MH and OH may have been driven more by the superior performance of the OH group (compared with historical data) than the poorly performing MH group.4 Other criticisms have touched on the low number of overall survival events, the low bar for surgeon volume or skill assessment, and the inability to make conclusions regarding “low-risk” lesions (<2 cm, no lymphovascular space invasion, <1 cm depth of invasion).

Were requirements for surgical skill adequate? Regarding surgeon skill, the LACC trial required documentation of the perioperative outcomes from 10 laparoscopic or robotic radical hysterectomies, as well as 2 unedited videos of each surgeon participating in the study to verify their technique, which some have considered inadequate to sufficiently vet a surgeon’s ability. Additionally, 14 of the 33 centers enrolled in the study accrued 71% of the patients, and concerns about the surgeon volume of the remaining 19 centers have been raised. Finally, there has been discussion about whether the variance in surgical approach can even be adequately assessed in a trial of this nature, as surgical skill is not a binary variable that is easily amenable to randomization. Unlike other trials, which have clear exposure and control arms, no 2 surgeries are exactly alike, and surgical technique is highly variable between surgeons, institutions, and countries.

Continue to: New data evaluate for surgeon volume

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