To answer the question whether laparoscopic cholecystectomy (LC) or open cholecystectomy (OC) is safer in terms of complications and to what extent the "learning curve" influences the frequency of complications after LC, we conducted a matched case-control study. First, 200 patients undergoing LC (LC group A), and two groups of 200 patients undergoing LC at two different periods of the learning curve (LC groups B and C) were matched, taking into account sex, age, anesthesiologic risk, and surgical difficulties. We evaluated the frequency and grade of postoperative complications of these patients and of the last 200 patients undergoing OC before the introduction of LC, retrospectively matched with the LC groups. The total rate of complications in the OC group was 16.0% compared with 5.5% in the LC groups (p < 0.003); the difference was particularly significant for complications classified as grade I, in female patients, those younger than 70, those with low anesthesiologic risk (ASA), and those after cholecystectomy without surgical difficulties. Matched case-control analysis revealed that the complication rate in the LC group significantly decreases with experience (P < 0.01). We conclude that LC is today the treatment of choice for symptomatic cholelithiasis and is replacing OC as the gold standard against which new therapies should be compared.
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