Surgery is the preferred treatment for resectable oesophageal cancers, and can be performed in different ways. Transhiatal oesophagectomy (oesophagectomy without thoracotomy, with a cervical anastomosis) is one way to resect oesophageal cancers. It can be performed laparoscopically or by open method. With other organs, laparoscopic surgery has been shown to reduce complications and length of hospital stay compared to open surgery. However, concerns remain about the safety of laparoscopic transhiatal oesophagectomy in terms of post-operative complications and oncological clearance compared with open transhiatal oesophagectomy.
To assess the benefits and harms of laparoscopic versus open oesophagectomy for people with oesophageal cancer undergoing transhiatal oesophagectomy.
We electronically searched the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL) in The Cochrane Library, MEDLINE, EMBASE, Science Citation Index Expanded, and trials registers until August 2015. We also searched the references of included trials to identify further trials.
We considered randomised controlled trials and non-randomised studies comparing laparoscopic with open transhiatal oesophagectomy in patients with resectable oesophageal cancer, regardless of language, blinding, or publication status for the review.
Three review authors independently identified trials, assessed risk of bias and extracted data. We calculated the risk ratio (RR) or hazard ratio (HR) with 95% confidence intervals (CI), using both fixed-effect and random-effects models, with RevMan 5, based on intention-to-treat analyses.
We found no randomised controlled trials on this topic. We included six non-randomised studies (five retrospective) that compared laparoscopic versus open transhiatal oesophagectomy (334 patients: laparoscopic = 154 patients; open = 180 patients); five studies (326 patients: laparoscopic = 151 patients; open = 175 patients) provided information for one or more outcomes. Most studies included a mixture of adenocarcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma and different stages of oesophageal cancer, without metastases. All the studies were at unclear or high risk of bias; the overall quality of evidence was very low for all the outcomes.The differences between laparoscopic and open transhiatal oesophagectomy were imprecise for short-term mortality (laparoscopic = 0/151 (adjusted proportion based on meta-analysis estimate: 0.5%) versus open = 2/175 (1.1%); RR 0.44; 95% CI 0.05 to 4.09; participants = 326; studies = 5; I² = 0%); long-term mortality (HR 0.97; 95% CI 0.81 to 1.16; participants = 193; studies = 2; I² = 0%); anastomotic stenosis (laparoscopic = 4/36 (11.1%) versus open = 3/37 (8.1%); RR 1.37; 95% CI 0.33 to 5.70; participants = 73; studies = 1); short-term recurrence (laparoscopic = 1/16 (6.3%) versus open = 0/4 (0%); RR 0.88; 95% CI 0.04 to 18.47; participants = 20; studies = 1); long-term recurrence (HR 1.00; 95% CI 0.84 to 1.18; participants = 173; studies = 2); proportion of people who required blood transfusion (laparoscopic = 0/36 (0%) versus open = 6/37 (16.2%); RR 0.08; 95% CI 0.00 to 1.35; participants = 73; studies = 1); proportion of people with positive resection margins (laparoscopic = 15/102 (15.8%) versus open = 27/111 (24.3%); RR 0.65; 95% CI 0.37 to 1.12; participants = 213; studies = 3; I² = 0%); and the number of lymph nodes harvested during surgery (median difference between the groups varied from 12 less to 3 more lymph nodes in the laparoscopic compared to the open group; participants = 326; studies = 5).The proportion of patients with serious adverse events was lower in the laparoscopic group (10/99, (10.3%) compared to the open group = 24/114 (21.1%); RR 0.49; 95% CI 0.24 to 0.99; participants = 213; studies = 3; I² = 0%); as it was for adverse events in the laparoscopic group = 37/99 (39.9%) versus the open group = 71/114 (62.3%); RR 0.64; 95% CI 0.48 to 0.86; participants = 213; studies = 3; I² = 0%); and the median lengths of hospital stay were significantly less in the laparoscopic group than the open group (three days less in all three studies that reported this outcome; number of participants = 266). There was lack of clarity as to whether the median difference in the quantity of blood transfused was statistically significant favouring laparoscopic oesophagectomy in the only study that reported this information. None of the studies reported post-operative dysphagia, health-related quality of life, time-to-return to normal activity (return to pre-operative mobility without caregiver support), or time-to-return to work.
There are currently no randomised controlled trials comparing laparoscopic with open transhiatal oesophagectomy for patients with oesophageal cancers. In observational studies, laparoscopic transhiatal oesophagectomy is associated with fewer overall complications and shorter hospital stays than open transhiatal oesophagectomy. However, this association is unlikely to be causal. There is currently no information to determine a causal association in the differences between the two surgical approaches. Randomised controlled trials comparing laparoscopic transhiatal oesophagectomy with other methods of oesophagectomy are required to determine the optimal method of oesophagectomy.