A Surgical Approach to the Harvest of the Vascularized Submandibular and Submental Lymph Node Flap: The “Through-the-Gland” Dissection Technique

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BackgroundExtremity lymphedema is a pathological condition resulting from absence of lymph nodes and disease of lymphatic vessels, often due to oncologic clearance of lymph nodes. In recent years, vascularized lymph node transfer has become a rapidly emerging method of lymphatic reconstruction shown to lead to lymphatic regeneration. In particular, lymphatic flaps based on the submental artery have shown good results with its favorable donor site and available nodes. The lymph nodes here are in close relation to the submandibular gland and require careful dissection around and through the gland for safe harvest. We studied this region of the neck and describe the blood supply to the lymph nodes, their variable positions in relation to the gland, and our technique of dissecting through the submandibular gland while keeping the lymph nodes' hilar blood supply intact.MethodsWe dissected 2 cadaver heads (4 sides of the neck) to study the submandibular and submental lymph nodes, where to locate them in relation to the submandibular gland and how best to dissect through the submandibular gland for access while keeping the hilar supply intact. We applied this knowledge in 6 clinical cases and provide a brief description of our “through-the-gland” dissection technique.ResultsThe submandibular lymph nodes may lie (1) superficial and posterior to the gland, (2) between the superficial and deep parts of the submandibular gland, or (3) anteriorly and submental. They are classified as superficial, deep, and submental, respectively. The through-the-gland dissection technique gave the surgeon improved access and exposure to the lymph nodes. It also facilitated safer dissection because their hilar blood supply is well visualized.ConclusionsThe through-the-gland technique of harvesting vascularized submandibular lymph node flaps is a safe technique that allows the surgeon to clearly identify and preserve blood supply of lymph nodes.

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