Robotic pancreatic surgery is no substitute for experience and clinical judgment: an initial experience and literature review
© Wayne et al.; licensee BioMed Central Ltd. 2013
Received: 6 November 2012
Accepted: 7 July 2013
Published: 18 July 2013
Robotic pancreatic surgery offers technical advantages, and has been applied across many surgical specialties. We report an initial experience of 12 distal pancreatic resections for benign tumors from an established pancreatic center with previous general and biliary laparoscopic experience. Of a total of 12 patients, 7 were women; the mean age was 55.5 years, and the lesions included 8 distal intraductal papillary mucinous tumors, 1 insulinoma and in 3 a non-functioning neuroendocrine tumor. All operations were performed in between 90 and 180 minutes, and blood loss and hospital stay were minimal.
The application and popularity of robotic surgery increase annually . Robotics offer several advantages including three-dimensional visualization, enhanced dexterity through articulated instruments, higher magnification of the surgery site, and ‘arms’ that provide fixed traction and exposure [1–3]. Its adaptation in pancreatic surgery has lagged for technical, philosophical and economic reasons. We are an established hepatobiliary and pancreatic center, experienced in open pancreatic, and open and laparoscopic biliary surgery, but not robotic or laparoscopic pancreatic surgery. We report our first 12 robotic pancreatic resections, and review the relevant literature.
Patient characteristics in present series (n = 12)
Age in years, mean (range)
55.5 (33 to 78)
Intraductal papillary mucinous neoplasm
Distal pancreatectomy with splenectomy
Results for present series
Operative time in hours (h) and minutes (m), mean (range)
2 h and 22 m (1 h and 30 m to 3 h)
Estimated blood loss:
100 to 200 ml
300 to 350 ml
Length of stay:
In 2003, Giulianotti et al. reported a series of robotic abdominal operations including the first pancreatic resection , and Melvin et al. reported a robotic excision of a neuroendocrine tumor . While robotic operations have tripled between 2007 and 2010, there have been few reports of robotic pancreatic surgery [1, 6]. Until recently most pancreatic surgery was performed for pancreatic adenocarcinoma, and most often required a Whipple operation, which can be intricate, lengthy and with significant morbidity [7, 8]. Most distal pancreatic adenocarcinomas are large, rarely resectable or curable . Why add robotics, time, cost and difficulty to an already grim situation?
The worldwide increase in body imaging has detected smaller, asymptomatic, and incidental pancreatic lesions [9, 10]. These include cystic and neuroendocrine tumors, which have a far better prognosis than adenocarcinoma [9, 10]. When surgery is indicated, the small size and absent vascular involvement favor laparoscopy or robotics. Most robotic pancreatic procedures (60% to 70%) are performed for benign lesions less than 3 cm, reflecting selection bias and sound judgment [2, 3, 11, 12].
Reported outcomes of robotic distal pancreatectomies
Our series included one central resection. Three reports of robotic central resection include three, five, and nine patients with mean operating times from 5 hours and 20 minutes to 8 hours 0” [1, 14, 15]. The fistula rates were one in three , one in five  and seven in nine  and the hospital stay ranged from 9 to 28 days. The operating time was influenced by the distal pancreatic anastomosis, that is, pancreaticogastrostomy, or pancreaticojejunostomy. We favor closure rather than anastomoses of the distal duct in central resections, as it shortens hospital stay, and operating time, minimizes fistula rates and does not increase exocrine insufficiency .
The robotic pancreatic studies indicate satisfaction with robotics, fewer conversions to open surgery and greater splenic preservation as compared to laparoscopy [1, 3]. A large laparoscopic pancreatic experience generally precedes pancreatic robotic surgery. Despite this experience, most reported robotic operations took at least 5 h, double our initial experience. Our lack of laparoscopic pancreatic experience was balanced by the benefits of a large open experience, which provided intimate familiarity with pancreatic anatomy, and insights into case selection, and intraoperative decision making.
The cost of robotic surgery is a valid concern. Waters et al. compared the cost of robotic distal pancreatectomy (R) to open (O) and laparoscopic distal pancreatectomy (L) in 77 cases . The mean operating times and hospital stay were for O (3 hours and 42 minutes; 8 days), for L (4 hours and 5 minutes; 6 days), and for R (4 hours and 58 minutes; 4 days). The total cost for R, O and L were US$10,588, US$12,986, and US$16,059. The higher operative cost for robotics was offset by a shorter stay for robotic procedures.
Our operating room charges were slightly higher for robotics (R) compared to open surgery (O) US$2,180.48 versus US$1,750.09 but were offset by a shorter hospital stay, 3.9 days (R) versus 6.5 (O). Kang et al. noted in Korea that costs were 2.5 times higher for robotic versus laparoscopic distal pancreatic resections, not offset by hospital costs. .
Robotic distal pancreatectomy is safe, and its inherent advantages benefit patients and facilitate surgery in appropriately selected cases.
In all, 12 patients with benign pancreatic tumors underwent robotic pancreatic distal resection (11), and central resection (1). Operative times ranged from 1 hour and 30 minutes to 3 hours, blood loss less than 100 cm3 in ten patients, 150 cm3 in one patient and 350 cm3 in another. Hospital stay was 3 to 4 days for 11 patients and 5 days for 1 patient. Careful selection of patients and a large pancreatic experience allow satisfactory outcomes after pancreatic resections and may equalize or outweigh minimally invasive experience.
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