Background: Robotic approach for rectal cancer competes with laparoscopy in centers dedicated to minimally invasive surgery (MIS) due to the technologic advantage. This is a report of our experience with MIS for rectal cancer.
Methods: A series of 84 consecutive patients with laparoscopic resection (between 1995-2010) and 38 consecutive patients with robotic resection (between 2008-2010) for primary rectal cancer were analyzed. Hartmann's procedures were excluded. Clinical and pathologic outcomes were reviewed retrospectively.
Results: In the laparoscopic group (LG), 50 anterior rectal resections (ARR), 34 abdominal perineal resections (APR) were performed while in the robotic group(RG) there were 30 ARR and 8 APR. The median operative time was 182 min (140-220 min) in LG and 208 min (180-300 min) in RG (p = 0.0002). No statistically significant difference was noticed between the groups in terms of conversion, morbidity, anastomotic leak and postoperative stay rates. Margin clearance was obtained in all patients and the median number of removed lymph nodes was similar: 11.37 in RG vs. 11.07 in the LG (p = 0.65) with a higher rate of metastatic lymph node involvement in laparoscopy (p = 0.0l012). Blood loss was higher in LG (150 ml vs. 100 ml; p = 0.0001). There were 5 (5.9%) local recurrences in the LG at a median follow-up of 27.5 months and 2 (5.2%) in the RG at a median follow-up of 13 months (p = 0.43).
Conclusions: Minimally invasive surgery for rectal cancer proved to be safe and efficient with similar results in the two groups. Technological advances of robotic approach compared to laparoscopy allowed better ergonomics, more refined dissection, easier preserving of hypogastric nerves and less blood loss. Long term outcomes are to be assessed in prospective randomized studies.