Concerns that resulted in moratorium on laparoscopic procedure resolved
When performed by experienced surgeons, minimally invasive laparoscopic surgery is a safe and effective alternative to standard open surgery for most patients with cancer that is confined to the colon.
That is the main finding of a seven-year international study, which will be published in the May 13 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine. The study involves 872 patients with colon cancer and is the most extensive comparison to date of the two surgical techniques. It addresses concerns raised in the early 1990s about higher rates of colon cancer recurrence after laparoscopic surgery. Those concerns resulted in policies recommending that laparoscopic colon surgery not be performed until clinical studies showed it was effective in cancer patients.
"My impression from many interactions with patients is that the minimally invasive approach is less intimidating to the patient with colon cancer," says Dr. Nelson. "The smaller incision and faster recovery present less of a reminder to the patient about the serious diagnosis."
The use of minimally invasive laparoscopic surgery began in the 1980s for removal of the appendix and gallbladder. The success of those procedures made surgeons think the technique could provide equal benefit for removal of colon cancer. In 1990, surgeons began performing minimally invasive surgery for colon cancer, but stopped in 1994 because of concerns about:
"These concerns demanded a prospective, randomized comparison of the two procedures to ensure that the laparoscope technique was properly tested before it became widely used for surgical treatment of colon cancer," says Dr. Nelson. "Most surgeons supported this need for critical evaluation and adopted a policy of not performing the laparoscopic procedure outside of a clinical study."
Surgeons participating in this study had to become credentialed and show that they had performed at least 20 laparoscopic colon surgeries. During the study, an audit committee evaluated randomly selected and unedited videotapes submitted by each surgeon to assure proper technique was followed.
Dr. Nelsons advice to patients who are diagnosed with colon cancer and interested in having laparoscopic surgery: Ask how many laparoscopic colon procedures the surgeon performs annually, how familiar he or she is with doing cancer surgeries laparoscopically and where they received their training for laparoscopic colon surgery. If the patient is not comfortable with the answers, she suggests seeking a second opinion or considering the standard open operation.
"I anticipate that as a result of this study, more physicians will become experienced in laparoscopic colon surgery and the procedure will become widely available throughout the United States and Canada," says Dr. Nelson.
Mary Lawson | EurekAlert!
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