Robotic lung cancer surgery: review of experience and costs
Use of robot-assisted techniques is growing fast in several surgical disciplines, now including thoracic surgery. The paper reviews experience of robotic surgery to resect lung cancer and in particular analyzes data on the costs of these procedures in comparison to open surgery and video-assisted thoracoscopic surgery (VATS). Retrospective studies published over 14 years show that robotic surgery for lung cancer has the advantages of minimally invasive surgery for patients, and some advantages over VATS for the surgeon. Limited data indicate that oncological outcomes are comparable with those of VATS and open surgery, while lymph node dissection may be more radical. Other studies indicate that robotic surgery for lung cancer offers no advantages either in terms of costs or outcomes. The high costs of purchase, maintenance and consumables are a concern and continue to limit uptake of robot systems in thoracic surgery. Most studies—but not all—indicate that robotic surgery for lung cancer is more expensive than VATS and open surgery. However limited data also indicate that hospitals can make a profit from robotic thoracic surgery, as costs seem to be lower than reimbursements from paying bodies. Nevertheless robotic thoracic surgery is still too expensive for many public hospitals, particularly in low income countries. Entry of new surgical robot manufacturers onto the market will bring much-needed competition that may also lead to cost reduction.