Functional and Aesthetic Outcomes in Free Flap Reconstruction of Intraoral Defects With Lip-Split Versus Non–Lip-Split Incisions

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Abstract

Background

Traditional free flap reconstruction of complex intraoral defects often uses large lip-splitting incisions. To reduce morbidity and preserve aesthetics, we have adopted a more technically demanding visor technique obviating an incision through the lower lip through which the resection and reconstruction are performed.

Methods

A retrospective review was performed of patients who underwent free flap reconstruction of intraoral defects over 7 years by a single plastic surgeon (C.H.R.) at a single institution. Patients were included if they underwent a resection from the mandible, tongue, or floor of mouth followed by free tissue transfer as a reconstructive approach. Patients were excluded if they underwent reconstruction of an area that does not traditionally require a lip incision, such as a maxillectomy or laryngeal defect. An ablative approach was taken via a lip-split technique or visor technique. Wound complications, margins of resection, and functional outcomes were assessed. Two standardized questionnaires (Derriford Appearance Scale Short Form and Quality of Life Questionnaire for Head and Neck Cancer) were used to assess psychological distress and dysfunction from disfigurement, speech quality, and oral function. Preoperative and postoperative patient photos were evaluated.

Results

Of 27 patients (mean ± SD age, 58.33 ± 13.02 years), 52% (14) had visor reconstructions whereas 48% (13) had lip-splitting reconstructions. About 78.6% of visor patients had widely-free margins compared with 46.2% of the lip-split patients. No differences in surgical-site complications between the lip-split and visor group (38.5% vs 28.6%) or in operative times were observed. Ninety-three percent of visor patients versus 54% of lip-split patients tolerated oral feeds at 1 year. Lip-split patients rated their quality of eating and speech worse than the visor patients (Quality of Life Questionnaire for Head and Neck Cancer mean score, 2.2 vs 1.56). Patients and clinical staff deemed visor reconstructions resulted in less visible sequelae.

Conclusions

A visor technique with no lip-split incision for intraoral free flap reconstruction is an oncologically safe technique to consider that may improve cosmetic and functional outcomes for head and neck reconstruction patients.

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