UPCI / UPMC CC Press Releases

Minimally Invasive Surgery for Esophageal Cancer Reduces Mortality Rates, Length of Hospital Stays

ORLANDO, May 31, 2009 – Patients with esophageal cancer who require surgery may benefit from having minimally invasive surgery instead of an open esophagectomy, or removal of the esophagus, according to a University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute (UPCI) phase II study. The results will be presented May 31 at the 45th annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) in Orlando, Fla.

"Esophageal cancer rates are rising more rapidly than for any other cancer in world," said James D. Luketich, MD, associate professor of surgery at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and lead investigator and co-director of UPCI's Lung and Esophageal Cancer Program. "In the last two decades alone, esophageal cancer cases have grown more than 400 percent."

This is the first time minimally invasive esophagectomies (MIE) have been assessed in a multicenter study, although single institution studies have previously demonstrated success with MIEs. The study enrolled 106 patients from 16 institutions across the country. Of those patients, 99 qualified for and received an MIE. While overall survival rates remained the same whether a patient received an MIE or an open procedure, surgical mortality rates were lower and the hospital stays shorter for MIE patients.

Co-investigator Arjun Pennathur, MD, assistant professor of surgery at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, will present this work at the meeting. "The best treatment for this disease is removal of the tumor, and if we can do the necessary surgery with MIE and reduce recovery times and mortality rates, then patients will benefit enormously," he noted.

Approximately 16,500 cases of esophageal cancer will be diagnosed in the United States this year. Although symptoms often don't appear until the disease has progressed into later stages, an increasing number of patients are diagnosed with early stage disease, according to Dr. Luketich. "With this cancer on the rise, we need to do everything we can to increase patients' survival," he said. "MIE is an ideal surgery because it encourages faster healing and less time spent inside the hospital, where patients can be exposed to infections and other complications. The more quickly patients recover, the more quickly they can begin other forms of treatment they might need."

This study was sponsored by the National Institutes of Health.

Founded in 1984, the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute is the only National Cancer Institute (NCI)-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center in western Pennsylvania. Serving the region's population of more than six million, UPCI receives a total of $154 million in research grants and is ranked 10th in funding from the NCI.

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