Laparoscopic Surgery Proves Effective for Colon Cancer

DALLAS - May 2004 - UT Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas is part of a landmark, seven-year study in the New England Journal of Medicine that concludes minimally invasive laparoscopic surgery for colon cancer, when performed by a skilled surgeon, is just as effective as traditional open surgery.

Dr. Clifford Simmang, associate professor of surgery at UT Southwestern and a member of the Clinical Outcomes of Surgical Therapy Study Group of the Laparoscopic Colectomy Trial, which wrote the study, said laparoscopic colon surgeries were once thought to cause more side effects and complications than traditional surgeries for colon cancer.

"But we've shown that laparoscopic surgery is just as effective," said Dr. Simmang, director of the Colon and Rectal Surgery Program at UT Southwestern. "It's important to note, though, that surgeons must be skilled in this surgery, which is tremendously more difficult than open colon surgery."

Dr. Simmang has performed more than 250 laparoscopic colon surgeries, about 30 of them for cancer, and more than 2,500 open colon surgeries. The laparoscopic procedures for colon cancer started in 1990 but were halted in 1994 because of concerns about increased recurrence of the cancer and a limited ability to explore the abdominal cavity.

Dr. Simmang said the new study, led by the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., in which 66 colorectal surgeons at 48 medical centers in the United States and Canada participated, shows that skilled surgeons can effectively perform the surgery. A total of 428 patients underwent open colectomy, and 345 were treated with laparoscopically assisted colectomy. The team of surgeons compared recurrence of the cancer, complications, length of time patients were cancer-free and overall survival.

In addition to similar outcomes, patients who underwent the laparoscopic colectomy spent less time in the hospital and less time on pain-relieving medications.

Dr. Simmang cautioned, however, that laparoscopic surgery is not an option for all forms of colon cancer, which is the second leading cause of cancer death in the United States.

"And we should remember that it's a very tricky, demanding operation that should only be performed by specialists," he said. "Even minor mistakes can cause serious complications."

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Media Contacts: Steve O'Brien
214-648-3404
stephen.obrien@utsouthwestern.edu

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