Robotic technological aids in esophageal surgery
Robotic technology is an emerging technology that has been developed in order to overcome some limitations of the standard laparoscopic approach, offering a stereoscopic three-dimensional visualization of the surgical field, increased maneuverability of the surgical tools with consequent increased movement accuracy and precision and improved ergonomics. It has been used for the surgical treatment of most benign esophageal disorders. More recently, it has been proposed also for patients with operable esophageal cancer. The current evidence shows that there are no real benefits of the robotic technology over conventional laparoscopy in patients undergoing a fundoplication for gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), hiatal closure for giant hiatal hernia, or Heller myotomy for achalasia. A few small studies suggest potential advantages in patients undergoing redo surgery for failed fundoplication or Heller myotomy, but large comparative studies are needed to better clarify the role of the robotic technology in these patients. Robot-assisted esophagectomy seems to be safe and effective in selected patients; however, there are no data showing superiority of this approach over both conventional laparoscopic and open surgery. The short-term and long-term oncologic results of ongoing randomized controlled trials (RCTs) are awaited to validate this approach for the treatment of esophageal cancer.