Should All Distal Pancreatectomies Be Performed Laparoscopically?

Nipun B. Merchant, Alexander A. Parikh, David A. Kooby

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

57 Scopus citations


Despite the relatively slow start of laparoscopic pancreatectomy relative to other laparoscopic resections, an increasing number of these procedures are being performed around the world. Operations that were once considered impossible to perform laparoscopically, such as pancreaticoduodenectomy [86-88] and central pancreatectomy [89-91] are gaining momentum. Technology continues to improve, as does surgical experience and prowess. There are both enough experience and data (though retrospective) to confirm that LDP with or without spleen preservation appears to be a safe treatment for benign or noninvasive lesions of the pancreas. Based on the fact that LDP can be performed with similar or shorter operative times, blood loss, complication rates, and length of hospital stay than ODP, it can be recommended as the treatment of choice for benign and noninvasive lesions in experienced hands when clinically indicated. It is very difficult to make clear recommendations with regard to laparoscopic resection of malignant pancreatic tumors due to the lack of conclusive data. As long as margins are negative and lymph node clearance is within accepted standards, LDP appears to have no untoward oncologic effects on outcome. Certainly more data, preferably in the manner of a randomized clinical trial, are needed before additional recommendations can be made. Potential benefits of laparoscopic resection for cancer include the ability to inspect the abdomen and abort the procedure with minimal damage if occult metastases are identified. This does not delay the onset of palliative chemotherapy, which would be the primary treatment in that circumstance. In fact, there is evidence to suggest that there is a greater likelihood of receiving systemic therapy if a laparotomy is avoided in patients who have radiologically occult metastases [92]. Patients may also undergo palliative laparoscopic gastric and biliary bypass if indicated. Faster wound healing may also translate into a shorter waiting time before initiating adjuvant chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy. If the patient develops a wound infection, the infection should be more readily manageable with smaller incisions. Although not proven clinically relevant in humans, the reduction in perioperative stress associated with laparoscopic resection may translate to a cancer benefit for some patients. One report compared markers of systemic inflammatory response in 15 subjects undergoing left pancreatectomy [66]. Eight had hand-access laparoscopic procedures and the rest had standard open surgery. The subjects in the laparoscopic group had statistically lower C-reactive protein levels than the open group on postoperative days one (5.5 mg/dL versus 9.7 mg/dL, P = .006) and three (8.5 mg/dL versus 17.7 mg/dL, P = .003), suggesting that the laparoscopic approach to left pancreatectomy is associated with less inflammation. While this report is underpowered, it supports the notion that MIS cancer surgery may induce less of a systemic insult to the body than standard open cancer surgery. More work in this area is necessary before any firm conclusions can be drawn. An important issue to consider is that of training surgeons to perform these complex procedures laparoscopically. Not all pancreatectomies are amenable to the laparoscopic approach, even in the most skilled hands. As such, only a percentage of cases will be performed this way and expectations to educate surgeons adequately to perform advanced laparoscopic procedures can be unrealistic, resulting in more "on-the-job" training. Another aspect that draws some controversy is that of the totally laparoscopicprocedure versus the hand-access approach. No laparoscopic instrument provides the tactile feedback possible to obtain with the hand.The HALS approach allows for this, and the opportunity to control bleeding during the procedure. HALS also provides a way to improve confidence during the learning-curve phase of these operations. Finally, it is important to remember that if the procedure is failing to progress laparoscopically, or if cancer surgery principles are likely to be violated, the surgeon (and the patient) must be willing to abort the laparoscopic approach and complete the operation using standard open technique. During the next few years we can expect to see more robust outcome data with laparoscopic pancreatectomy. The expectation is that more data will come to light demonstrating benefits of laparoscopic pancreatic resection as compared with open technique for selected patients. Several groups are considering randomized trials to look at these endpoints. Although more retrospective and prospectively maintained data will certainly be presented, it is less likely that randomized data specifically examining the question of laparoscopic versus open pancreatectomy for cancer will mature, due to some of the limitations discussed above. Additional areas of discovery are in staple line reinforcement for left pancreatectomy and suturing technology for pancreatico-intestinal anastomosis. Robotic surgery may have a role in pancreatic surgery. Improving optics and visualization with flexible endoscopes with provide novel surgical views potentially improving the safety of laparoscopy. Another area in laparoscopic surgery that is gaining momentum is that of Natural Orifice Transluminal Endoscopic Surgery (NOTES) [93,94]. NOTES represents the "holy grail" of incisionless surgery. Can we enucleate a small tumor off the pancreatic body by passing an endoscope through the gastric (or colonic) wall, and bring the specimen out via the mouth or anus? Can we use this approach for formal left pancreatectomies? Pioneers have already developed a porcine model of left pancreatectomy [95]. This technology must clear several hurdles before it is cancer ready; however, technology is moving at a rapid pace.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)283-300
Number of pages18
JournalAdvances in surgery
Issue number1
StatePublished - Sep 2009
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surgery


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