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Adv Surg. 2010;44:101-16.

Laparoscopic and thoracoscopic esophagectomy.

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Department of Surgery, Division of Thoracic and Foregut Surgery, Heart, Lung and Esophageal Surgery Institute, University of Pittsburgh, 200 Lothrop Street Suite C-800, Pittsburgh, PA 15213, USA.


Over the past decade, our technique of MIE has evolved considerably. In the incipient phase of our experience, we used a totally laparoscopic approach similar to that described in the initial reports from DePaula and colleagues and Swanstrom and Hansen. However, it was soon apparent that there were several critical disadvantages to a purely laparoscopic approach. Laparoscopic transhiatal mobilization of the esophagus offers suboptimal visualization of important periesophageal structures, including the inferior pulmonary vein and the left mainstem bronchus. Moreover, decreased visibility hindered hemostatic division of periesophageal vessels and negatively impacted the completeness of the mediastinal lymph node dissection. These problems are further exacerbated in taller patients. In light of these considerations, we soon transitioned to a laparoscopic-thoracoscopic McKeown approach (thoracoscopic mobilization of the intrathoracic esophagus, laparoscopic gastric tube creation, cervical anastomosis). To this date, the great majority of our minimally invasive esophagectomies (>500 cases) have been performed with this 3-field technique. Indeed, the procedure has been the mainstay of our experience in the past 10 years with reduced perioperative morbidity and mortality compared with many other open series. In our experience, perhaps the most significant technical concern with this operation is the cervical dissection. Recurrent laryngeal nerve injuries, perturbations in pharyngeal transit, and swallowing dysfunction even in the absence of recurrent nerve injury are not infrequent. Moreover, as described in open series using a cervical anastomosis, anastomotic stricture and leak have been shown to occur with increased frequency [35]. In short, there is a significant learning curve with the cervical dissection. Out of these concerns emerged our more recent experience with completely thoracoscopic-laparoscopic Ivor Lewis esophagectomy. However, we did first evolve through a transition phase whereby a mini-thoracotomy (hybrid approach) was performed for creation of the intrathoracic anastomosis. We believe that the experience with totally thoracoscopic-laparoscopic Ivor Lewis esophagectomy will ultimately reproduce the low morbidity and mortality we have previously published with our established MIE technique. The omission of a cervical dissection has reduced our recurrent nerve injury rate to zero. From a theoretical standpoint, one would presume that pharyngeal transit problems and oropharyngeal swallowing dysfunction should be reduced as well with a chest anastomosis. It should be emphasized that there is a steep operator learning curve associated with this approach. Indeed, thoracoscopic port placement is critical, as poorly positioned trocars can result in difficulty maneuvering instruments through the rigid chest wall. Additionally, both blood and lung can obscure visualization of the esophagus, which lies at the dependent aspect of the operative field. Prone positioning has been described as an alternative approach that may facilitate operative exposure and address such technical concerns. Low rates of anastomotic leak (3%), low mortality (1.5%), and equivalent stage-specific survival compared with open series have been shown with this thoracoscopic prone approach [36]. In conclusion, our technique of MIE has evolved such that laparoscopic-thoracoscopic Ivor Lewis esophagectomy has become our preferred approach. Although somewhat early in our experience, we are convinced that this operative technique is feasible with reproducible results. Perioperative morbidity and mortality are comparable with our previously established MIE with cervical anastomosis while essentially eliminating recurrent nerve injury, limiting the length of the gastric conduit required, and allowing a more aggressive gastric resection margin. Recent data from other publications also suggests that lymph node yields may be improved, although insufficient data exist at this time to comment on oncologic results or outcomes with this technique.

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