Surgery is a profession defined by its authority to cure by means of bodily invasion. The brutality and risks of opening a living person’s body have long been apparent, the benefits only slowly and haltingly worked out. Nonetheless, over the past two centuries, surgery has become radically more effective, and its violence substantially reduced — changes that have proved central to the development of mankind’s abilities to heal the sick.
Consider, for instance, amputation of the leg.
The procedure had long been recognized as lifesaving, in particular for compound fractures and other wounds prone to sepsis, and at the same time horrific. Before the discovery of anesthesia, orderlies pinned the patient down while an assistant exerted pressure on the femoral artery or applied a tourniquet on the upper thigh.
Surgeons using the circular method proceeded through the limb in layers, taking a long curved knife in a circle through the skin first, then, a few inches higher up, through the muscle, and finally, with the assistant retracting the muscle to expose the bone a few inches higher still, taking an amputation saw smoothly through the bone so as not to leave splintered protrusions. Surgeons using the flap method, popularized by the British surgeon Robert Liston, stabbed through the skin and muscle close to the bone and cut swiftly through at an oblique angle on one side so as to leave a flap covering the stump.
The limits of patients’ tolerance for pain forced surgeons to choose slashing speed over precision. With either the flap method or the circular method, amputation could be accomplished in less than a minute, though the subsequent ligation of the severed blood vessels and suturing of the muscle and skin over the stump sometimes required 20 or 30 minutes when performed by less experienced surgeons.
No matter how swiftly the amputation was performed, however, the suffering that patients experienced was terrible. Few were able to put it into words. Among those who did was Professor George Wilson. In 1843, he underwent a Syme amputation — ankle disarticulation — performed by the great surgeon James Syme himself. Four years later, when opponents of anesthetic agents attempted to dismiss them as “needless luxuries,” Wilson felt obliged to pen a description of his experience:
“The horror of great darkness, and the sense of desertion by God and man, bordering close on despair, which swept through my mind and overwhelmed my heart, I can never forget, however gladly I would do so. During the operation, in spite of the pain it occasioned, my senses were preternaturally acute, as I have been told they generally are in patients in such circumstances. I still recall with unwelcome vividness the spreading out of the instruments: the twisting of the tourniquet: the first incision: the fingering of the sawed bone: the sponge pressed on the flap: the tying of the blood-vessels: the stitching of the skin: the bloody dismembered limb lying on the floor.”
It would take a little while for surgeons to discover that the use of anesthesia allowed them time to be meticulous. Despite the advantages of anesthesia, Liston, like many other surgeons, proceeded in his usual lightning-quick and bloody way. Spectators in the operating-theater gallery would still get out their pocket watches to time him. The butler’s operation, for instance, took an astonishing 25 seconds from incision to wound closure. (Liston operated so fast that he once accidentally amputated an assistant’s fingers along with a patient’s leg, according to Hollingham. The patient and the assistant both died of sepsis, and a spectator reportedly died of shock, resulting in the only known procedure with a 300% mortality.)
Minimally invasive surgery, a widely adopted tool for most domains of gastrointestinal surgery, has been relatively slow to evolve in the field of pancreatic surgery. The reasons include proximity to the great vessels, retroperitoneal location, need for advanced intracorporeal suturing skills and increased risk of complications associated with these procedures. With enormous development in surgical technology coupled with improved anatomical knowledge and refined skills, minimally invasive pancreatic surgery has grown out of its infancy and is an established specialty in hepato-pancreato-biliary surgery today. As a result, the initial scepticism and reluctance associated with minimally invasive pancreatic resections has decreased and many surgeons are attempting to enter this difficult terrain. Recent publications highlight potential advantages of minimally invasive pancreatic resection (MIPR) over open pancreatic resection (OPR). These include reduced pain, decreased blood loss and need for transfusion, an earlier return of bowel function, decreased wound infection rates and shorter intensive care unit and overall hospital stays. Though the number of minimally invasive pancreatic resections performed for benign and malignant diseases of the pancreas has increased in recent years, cost considerations and financial implications of these new approaches need to be well defined. Clear guidelines and standardization of surgical technique are paramount for the safe and steady expansion of this novel surgical approach.
Minimally Invasive Pancreaticoduodenectomy
Gagner and Pomp reported the first LPD in 1994. They felt that laparoscopy was not useful for such a major resection and reconstruction. However, their initial patients included those with chronic pancreatitis, where LPD is considered difficult to do even at present. With this background, we began doing LPD after sufficient experience had been gained in other major laparoscopic procedures such as colectomy, gastrectomy and choledochal cyst excision. During the initial phase, LPD was attempted in only periampullary tumours or small pancreatic head masses. With increasing experience, the indications for LPD were expanded to include carcinoma head of the pancreas and larger tumours.
Over the years, numerous technical modifications in terms of surgeon comfort, use of energy source, radicality of surgery, type of reconstruction and specimen extraction were made. These refinements resulted in better outcomes as was evident in the next publication in 2009 which included 75 patients. Oncologically, the resection status and lymph nodal yield were comparable with the open approach and would translate to equal survival outcomes. Recently, Asbun et al. compared their open PDs and LPDs and found that LPD had better perioperative outcomes in terms of blood loss and ICU and hospital stays.
In 2015, Palanivelu reported that the pathological radicality of LPD was comparable to that of the open approach when performed by experienced minimal access surgeons. And analysed yours long-term outcomes following LPD in 130 patients with pancreatic and periampullary cancers. This study, one of the largest published series so far, showed excellent short-term results and acceptable long-term survival. The pancreatic fistula rate was 8.5%, mean (SD) operating time was 310 (34) min, and mean blood loss was 110 (22) ml with a mean hospital stay of 8 (2.6) days. The resected margins were positive in 9.2% with an overall 5-year actuarial survival of 29.4% and a median survival of 33 months.
Published outcomes of LPD have shown that it is feasible and safe when done in high-volume institutions by expert surgeons. In a recent systematic review of LPD, Boggi et al. identified 25 articles with 746 patients who had LPD for both malignant and benign indications. The mean operative time and estimated blood loss were 464 min and 321 ml, respectively. Conversion to open surgery was required in 9% of patients. The average hospital stay was 14 days. The overall morbidity, mortality and pancreatic fistula rates were 41.2, 1.9 and 22.3%, respectively. The majority of surgeons did a pancreaticojejunostomy (84%), whereas a small number did pancre- aticogastrostomy (9.8%) or duct occlusion (6.8%). A slight majority did pylorus preservation (55%) instead of hemigastrectomy (45%). No major differences in outcomes were seen for laparoscopic, robotic, laparoscopic-assisted or hand-assisted methods.
Similarly, no significant differences were seen between high-volume (>30 cases) and low-volume centres other than longer operative times and higher estimated blood loss in the low-volume ones. The average number of lymph nodes recovered was 14.4 and the negative margin rate was 95.6%. Although the data were heterogeneous with a high likelihood for selection bias, the results for LPD appear to be at least comparable to those in patients undergoing open PD.
In general, LPD was associated with reduced blood loss and hospital stay; however, operative times tend to be longer. The longer operative times associated with LPD tend to reduce with increasing experience. In a series by Kim et al., the median operative time for LPD was 7.9 h and decreased with accumulating experience of the surgeon doing this procedure from 9.8 h for the first 33 cases to 6.6 h for the last 34 cases.