Perioperative Antibiotics in the Setting of Oropharyngeal Reconstruction: Less Is More

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Recipient-site infection after oropharyngeal reconstruction is a potentially disastrous complication. Although studies suggest that perioperative antibiotics reduces infection rates in these patients from 87% to 20%, there is no consensus regarding what constitutes the most appropriate antibiotic regimen and duration of treatment.


A retrospective review of perioperative antibiotic administration was performed of all patients who underwent local, pedicled, or free flap oropharyngeal reconstruction after oncologic resection by a single surgeon at a single institution between 2007 and 2013 to assess for recipient-site complications.


Ninety-seven patients underwent 100 reconstructions (61 free flap reconstructions, 39 pedicled/local flap reconstructions) and all received a combination of intravenous (IV) antibiotic agents designed to cover oral flora. There were 23 (23%) recipient-site complications, which included cellulitis (9%), mucocutaneous fistula (5%), abscess (5%), and wound dehiscence (4%). Duration of antibiotic prophylaxis, defined as less than 48 hours (short-course) or greater than 48 hours (long-course), was not a significant predictor of recipient-site complication. Significant risk factors for recipient-site complications were clindamycin prophylaxis (P < 0.008), increased duration of surgery (P < 0.047), and advanced age (P < 0.034). Recipient-site complication was found to be a significant predictor of both increased length of hospital stay (P < 0.001) and increased time to the resumption of enteral feeds (P < 0.035).


These data suggest that extended courses of perioperative antibiotics do not confer additional benefits in patients undergoing oropharyngeal reconstruction. We recommend a limited 48-hour course of prophylactic antibiotics with sufficient aerobic and anaerobic coverage to help minimize the incidence of antibiotic-related morbidities.

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