BACKGROUND: Transanal total mesorectal excision (TaTME) provides an excellent view of the resection margins for rectal cancer from below, but is challenging due to few anatomical landmarks. During implementation of this technique, patient safety and optimal outcomes need to be ensured. The aim of this study was to evaluate the learning curve of TaTME in patients with rectal cancer in order to optimize future training programs.
METHODS: All consecutive patients after TaTME for rectal cancer between February 2012 and January 2017 were included in a single-center database. Influence of surgical experience on major postoperative complications, leakage rate and operating time was evaluated using cumulative sum charts and the splitting model. Correction for potential case-mix differences was performed.
RESULTS: Over a period of 60 months, a total of 138 patients were included in this study. Adjusted for case-mix, improvement in postoperative outcomes was clearly seen after the first 40 patients, showing a decrease in major postoperative complications from 47.5 to 17.5% and leakage rate from 27.5 to 5%. Mean operating time (42 min) and conversion rate (from 10% to zero) was lower after transition to a two-team approach, but neither endpoint decreased with experience. Readmission and reoperation rates were not influenced by surgical experience.
CONCLUSIONS: The learning curve of TaTME affected major (surgical) postoperative complications for the first 40 patients. A two-team approach decreased operative time and conversion rate. When implementing this new technique, a thorough teaching and supervisory program is recommended to shorten the learning curve and improve the clinical outcomes of the first patients.