Background: The standard curative treatment for patients with esophageal cancer is perioperative chemotherapy or preoperative chemoradiotherapy followed by open transthoracic esophagectomy (OTE). Robot-assisted minimally invasive thoracolaparoscopic esophagectomy (RAMIE) may reduce complications.
Methods: A single-center randomized controlled trial was conducted, assigning 112 patients with resectable intrathoracic esophageal cancer to either RAMIE or OTE. The primary endpoint was the occurrence of overall surgery-related postoperative complications (modified Clavien-Dindo classification grade 2-5).
Results: Overall surgery-related postoperative complications occurred less frequently after RAMIE (59%) compared to OTE (80%) [risk ratio with RAMIE (RR) 0.74; 95% confidence interval (CI), 0.57-0.96; P = 0.02]. RAMIE resulted in less median blood loss (400 vs 568 mL, P <0.001), a lower percentage of pulmonary complications (RR 0.54; 95% CI, 0.34-0.85; P = 0.005) and cardiac complications (RR 0.47; 95% CI, 0.27-0.83; P = 0.006) and lower mean postoperative pain (visual analog scale, 1.86 vs 2.62; P < 0.001) compared to OTE. Functional recovery at postoperative day 14 was better in the RAMIE group [RR 1.48 (95% CI, 1.03-2.13; P = 0.038)] with better quality of life score at discharge [mean difference quality of life score 13.4 (2.0-24.7, p = 0.02)] and 6 weeks postdischarge [mean difference 11.1 quality of life score (1.0-21.1; P = 0.03)]. Short- and long-term oncological outcomes were comparable at a medium follow-up of 40 months.
Conclusions: RAMIE resulted in a lower percentage of overall surgery-related and cardiopulmonary complications with lower postoperative pain, better short-term quality of life, and a better short-term postoperative functional recovery compared to OTE. Oncological outcomes were comparable and in concordance with the highest standards nowadays.
Trial registration: ClinicalTrials.gov NCT01544790.