Robot-assisted transhiatal esophagectomy: a 3-year single-center experience


  • Author contributions:

  • Conception and design: DHD, NB, EMJ, JAM

  • Acquisition of data: JLK, JAM, HPD

  • Analysis and interpretation of data: NB, DHD, JAM

  • Manuscript drafting and/or revising for intellectual content: DHD, NB, EMJ, JAM

  • Final approval: DHD, NB, EMJ, JAM, HPD, JLK

Dr. Daniel H. Dunn, MD, FACS, Virginia Piper Cancer Institute, Abbott Northwestern Hospital, Mail Route 39602, 800 E. 28th Street, Minneapolis, MN 55407, USA. Email:


Minimally invasive esophagectomy has emerged as an important procedure for disease management in esophageal cancer (EC) with clear margin status, less morbidity, and shorter hospital stays compared with open procedures. The experience with transhiatal approach robotic esophagectomy (RE) for dissection of thoracic esophagus and associated morbidity is described here. Between March 2007 and November 2010, 40 patients with resectable esophageal indications underwent transhiatal RE at the institute. Clinical data for all patients were collected prospectively. Of 40 patients undergoing RE, one patient had an extensive benign stricture, one had high-grade dysplasia, and 38 had EC. Five patients were converted from robotic to open. Median operative time and estimated blood loss were 311 minutes and 97.2 mL, respectively. Median intensive care unit stay was 1 day (range, 0–16), and median length of hospital stay was 9 days (range, 6–36). Postoperative complications frequently observed were anastomotic stricture (n= 27), recurrent laryngeal nerve paresis (n= 14), anastomotic leak (n= 10), pneumonia (n= 8), and pleural effusion (n= 18). Incidence rates of laryngeal nerve paresis (35%) and leak rate (25%) were somewhat higher in comparison with that reported in literature. However, all vocal cord injuries were temporary, and all leaks healed following opening of the cervical incision and drainage. None of the patients died in the hospital, and 30-day mortality was 2.5% (1/40). Median number of lymph nodes removed was 20 (range, 3–38). In 33 patients with known lymph node locations, median of four (range, 0–12) nodes was obtained from the mediastinum, and median of 15 (range, 1–26) was obtained from the abdomen. R0 resection was achieved in 94.7% of patients. At the end of the follow-up period, 25 patients were alive, 13 were deceased, and 2 patients were lost to follow-up. For patients with EC, median disease-free survival was 20 months (range, 3–45). Transhiatal RE, by experience, is a feasible albeit evolving oncologic operation with low hospital mortality. The benefits include minimally invasive mediastinal dissection without thoracotomy or thoracoscopy. A reasonable operative time with minimal blood loss and postoperative morbidity can be achieved, in spite of the technically demanding nature of the procedure. Broader use of this technology in a setting of high-volume comprehensive surgical programs will almost certainly reduce the complication rates. Robotic tanshiatal esophagectomy with the elimination of a thoracic approach should be considered an option for the appropriate patient population in a comprehensive esophageal program.