This is a follow-up to the previous posting.  Please read that first.  Following is an editorial by Dr. Michael Blute of the Mayo Clinic urology faculty.  He is commenting on a study by Dr. Hu which compared laparascopic and open surgery.  I am going to cite the entire article almost verbatim and I have emphasized parts that I feel you should pay special attention to.

Opinion piece, “Radical Prostatectomy by Open or Laparoscopic/Robotic Techniques: An Issue of Surgical Device or Surgical Expertise?”

Department of Urology, College of Medicine, Mayo Clinic, Rochester, MN

Journal of Clinical Oncology, Vol 26, No 14 (May 10), 2008: pp. 2248-2249
© 2008
American Society of Clinical Oncology.
DOI: 10.1200/JCO.2008.16.0796

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<snip> Although RARP (robotic surgery) is different from LRP (standard laparascopic surgery), the authors are unable to separate LRP from RARP. 

Patient interest in RARP has been the result of a highly successful marketing campaign with resultant consumer demand. Patients have been led to believe that hospital and recovery times are shorter and outcomes are better, but a study has shown this expectation not to be the RARP is simply an alternative method to extract the prostate.

In this study, patients undergoing LRP were found to have shorter lengths of stay (mean, 1.42 days v 4.35 days; P < .001), but were more likely to require salvage therapy (27.8% v 9.1%; P < .001) with radiation therapy plus androgen deprivation therapy for local relapse. Patients who underwent LRP/RARP appeared to have more anastomotic strictures [urinary problems] than open surgery.

However, the authors did note that high-volume LRP/RARP surgeons were able to reduce these complication rates and the likelihood of local relapse, though both were still more frequent after LRP/RARP than after open technique.  The need for salvage therapy for local relapse) and increased incidence of anastomotic stricture may be related to the steep initial learning curve for both LRP/RARP, though more analysis of detailed data would be required to determine this with certainty.  Certainly, almost 30% of patients in the LRP/RARP group requiring salvage therapy compared with 9% in the open technique would imply greater oncologic efficacy in the latter.

However, without multivariate analysis including clinical and pathologic data, one cannot reliably account for these differences. It is disconcerting that the anastomotic stricture rate is higher than, and not superior to, open technique. Good technique prevents strictures.  Anastomotic stricture results in a significant decrease in urinary quality of life including difficult bladder emptying, recurrent urinary tract infection, and bleeding. Necessary repeated corrective procedures may result in progressive incontinence

It is particularly noteworthy that men undergoing LRP/RARP appeared to have fewer perioperative complications than open prostatectomy, while at the same time the patients were statistically significantly older with more comorbid
conditions. The data in this study indicate that the complication rates to open surgery may not be consistent with that reported for optimal open surgery. The reported rates of cardiac (6.6%), respiratory (11.7%), vascular (6.5%), wound/bleeding (3.6%), and genitourinary complications (8.0%) are not what are being achieved by most high-volume, open radical prostatectomy surgeons in this country.   Cardiovascular perioperative complications should be 1% or less in centers at which a high volume of open radical prostatectomy is performed. Certainly, the length of stay experienced by patients who undergo open radical prostatectomy by most high-volume surgeons is consistently less than 48 hours and not over 4 days as reported in this analysis. Similarly, anastomotic stricture rates are more likely in the 2% to 4% range after open techniques rather than the 12% reported herein.

Men treated by either LRP/RARP or open radical prostatectomy can follow the same care pathway, so length of stay should not be an issue.

The data strongly suggest that documentation of the surgical expertise of the surgeons performing both open and LRP/RARP surgery should be required by specialty societies and training programs as a prerequisite for board
certification. Open surgery has its own learning curve.  

 Importantly, as an obvious downside, LRP/RARP provides minimal or limited access to the prostate without helpful assistance of direct manipulation or tactile feedback. When LRP/RARP surgeons are in trouble, they may need to convert emergently to an open procedure to control life-threatening bleeding. To be unfamiliar with, incompetent, or inexperienced in open surgery would constitute a grievous error in training. We note that the authors did not perform an analysis of the prostatectomy volume by surgeon in terms of complication rates in the open series, and this would be noteworthy. Would not the same improvement in complication trend be expected for high-volume open surgeons? Moreover, we are in an age when open radical prostatectomy continues to evolve, and contributions to the literature on open technique continue to be published.

With respect to cancer control, long-term data have confirmed the efficacy of open radical prostatectomy with disease control rates known to be 60% to 75% at 10 years and cancer-specific survival rate approaching 97% at 10 years.  Similar long-term survival data for LRP/RARP are lacking. The rates of continence and potency with open technique continue to improve. A comparison of survival and complication rates should remain paramount in preoperative patient-surgeon interactions.

A paradigm shift toward LRP/RARP and away from open surgery may be underway. However, urology program directors currently report that residency training in LRP/RARP is available in a minority of programs, ando only a minority of residents feel that training is satisfactory.

How should patients and urologic surgeons consider this data? Speaking as one who practices in a high-volume center for both techniques, open prostatectomy and LRP/RARP continue to improve. This article provides a highly selected view of the state of open versus LRP/RARP practice in US Medicare patients. It does not provide data to the questions that are key to the vast majority of younger radical prostatectomy patients for whom long-term survival and complication rates are essential questions.

In experienced hands, there is short term equivalency in oncologic and functional efficacy for low- and intermediate-risk localized prostate cancer. Currently, open technique is the state-of-the-art procedure in experienced hands, as the long-term results for LRP/RARP do not exist. The published literature fails to answer whether LRP/RARP meets “quality standards.”