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Clin Spine Surg. 2016 Aug;29(7):E344-50. doi: 10.1097/BSD.0b013e318286fa99.

Thoracoscopic Vertebrectomy for Thoracolumbar Junction Fractures and Tumors: Surgical Technique and Evaluation of the Learning Curve.

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*Department of Neurosurgery, Clinical Neurosciences Center†The Spinal Oncology Service, Huntsman Cancer Institute, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, UT.



Retrospective study.


The authors evaluated the surgical technique and learning curve for video-assisted thoracoscopic surgery (VATS) for treating thoracolumbar junction burst fractures and bony tumors by examining surgical data and outcome for the first 30 VATS procedures performed by a single surgeon at a training institution.


VATS is commonly used in the treatment of early-stage lung cancer. Widespread use of this technique among neurosurgeons is limited by the lack of cases and the steep learning curve.


This study was a retrospective case series of the first 30 T12 and L1 thoracoscopic vertebrectomies from 2003 to 2008. The sample was limited to 1 surgeon and 1 region of the spine to minimize the potential variation so that a learning curve could be assessed. Surgical data and outcomes were analyzed. Estimated blood loss and operation time were analyzed using a linear generalized estimating equation model with a first-order autoregression correlation structure.


The average operative time for thoracoscopic corpectomy was 270±65 minutes (range, 160-416 min). Operating room time decreased significantly after the first 3 operations. The authors observed a stable linear decrease in operating time over the course of the study. The average blood loss during the thoracoscopic procedure was 433±330 mL (range, 100-1500 mL) and did not change as the series progressed. Complications and conversions to open procedures occurred in 2 patients and were evenly distributed throughout the series.


Thoracoscopic vertebrectomy at the thoracolumbar junction has a relatively long learning curve. In this series, operating room time improved dramatically after the first 3 cases but continued to improve subsequently. The learning curve can be accomplished without an increase in blood loss, complications, rate of conversion to open procedures, or frequency of misplaced instrumentation.

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