The Role of Free Tissue Transfer in the Reconstruction of Massive Neglected Skin Cancers of the Head and Neck


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Abstract

BackgroundMost skin cancers involving the head and neck region are easily managed with surgical resection and local flap rotation. Occasional patients present with massive neglected skin cancers or skin cancers that have recurred after multiple treatments. Management of these massive tumors may involve craniofacial resection, maxillectomy, or mandibulectomy to obtain clear margins. Reconstruction requires massive composite soft tissue replacement. We presented our experience with, to our knowledge, the largest series reported to date.DesignA retrospective chart review of 43 patients with massive neglected skin cancer of the head and neck reconstructed by means of free tissue transfer from January 1, 1992, through October 1, 2001.SettingAcademic tertiary referral medical center.ResultsSeventeen patients with squamous cell carcinoma and 26 patients with basal cell carcinoma were treated. Primary sites included the cheek (n = 15), ear (n = 8), forehead (n = 5), neck (n = 4), scalp (n = 5), and nose (n = 6). Treatment involved a combination of orbital exenteration (n = 16), maxillectomy (n = 12), mandibulectomy (n = 6), auriculectomy (n = 5), craniofacial resection (n = 10), rhinectomy (n = 6), and lateral temporal bone excision (n = 5). Flaps used for reconstruction included the rectus abdominis (n = 22), latissimus dorsi (n = 11), radial forearm (n = 8), and lateral arm (n = 2). Radiotherapeutic exposure included pretreatment in 21 patients and posttreatment in 15. Twelve patients had undergone no previous surgeries; 15 patients, 1 to 5; and 16 patients, more than 5. Follow-up revealed evidence of local recurrence (n = 12), locoregional recurrence (n = 3), distant metastasis (n = 3), and no evidence of disease (n = 25).ConclusionsMassive skin cancers are generally associated with disfiguring, debilitating surgery and high mortality rates. We demonstrate that free tissue transfer yields acceptable survival with functional and cosmetic outcomes.

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