Cable Grafting of the Spinal Accessory Nerve After Radical Neck Dissection

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Abstract

Background

From January 1981 through March 1996, 20 patients with head and neck cancer underwent radical neck dissection with sacrifice of the spinal accessory nerve and immediate reconstruction of the nerve using a microsurgical technique and a cable graft of the great auricular nerve.

Methods

Postoperative shoulder function was assessed via a subjective questionnaire, objective strength testing, and/or postoperative electromyography. The latter was used to evaluate for the presence and amplitude of voluntary motor potentials, the presence of fibrillation potentials, and nerve conduction latency. The group of patients who underwent cable grafting of the spinal accessory nerve was compared with a group of patients who underwent modified radical neck dissection with preservation of the spinal accessory nerve and with another group of patients who underwent a classic neck dissection with sacrifice of the spinal accessory nerve and no reconstruction.

Results

In terms of shoulder function, the group of patients in whom the spinal accessory nerve was reconstructed occupied an intermediate position; ie, their postoperative shoulder function was better than that of the patients who underwent radical neck dissection without reconstruction but not as good as that of the patients who underwent modified neck dissection with preservation of the spinal accessory nerve.

Conclusion

Cable grafting of the spinal accessory nerve that has been sacrificed during radical neck dissection results in improved shoulder function in the postoperative period.

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