A systematic review and meta-analysis comparing surgically-related complications between robotic-assisted thyroidectomy and conventional open thyroidectomy

Ann Surg Oncol. 2014 Mar;21(3):850-61. doi: 10.1245/s10434-013-3406-7. Epub 2013 Nov 23.


Background: Despite gaining popularity, robotic-assisted thyroidectomy (RT) remains controversial. This systematic review and meta-analysis is aimed at comparing surgically-related complications between RT and conventional open thyroidectomy (OT).

Methods: A systematic review of the literature was performed to identify studies comparing surgically-related outcomes between RT and OT. Studies that compared ≥ 1 surgically-related outcomes between RT and OT were included. Outcomes included operating time, blood loss, complications, and hospital stay. Meta-analysis was performed using a fixed-effects model.

Results: Eleven studies were eligible but none were randomized controlled trials. Of the 2,375 patients, 839 (35.3 %) underwent RT, while 1,536 (64.7 %) underwent OT. RT was significantly associated with longer operating time (p < 0.001), hospital stay (p = 0.023) and higher temporary recurrent laryngeal nerve (RLN) injury (p = 0.016). Although there was no correlation between the number of RTs reported in the study and the rate of temporary RLN injury (p = -0.486, p = 0.328, respectively), routine perioperative laryngoscopy was performed in only 2 of 11 studies. Blood loss (p = 0.485), temporary (p = 0.333) and permanent (p = 0.599) hypocalcemia, hematoma (p = 0.602), and overall morbidity (p = 0.880) appeared comparable. Two (0.2 %) brachial plexus injuries in RT were reported in one study.

Conclusions: Relative to OT, RT was associated with significantly longer operating time, longer hospital stay, and higher temporary RLN injury rate but comparable permanent complications and overall morbidity. Given some of the limitations with the literature and the potential added surgical risks and morbidity in RT, application of the robot in thyroid surgery should be carefully and thoroughly discussed before one decides on the procedure.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Meta-Analysis
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Prognosis
  • Robotics / methods*
  • Thyroid Neoplasms / surgery*
  • Thyroidectomy / methods*