Have We Found an Ideal Soft-Tissue Flap? An Experience with 672 Anterolateral Thigh Flaps

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The free anterolateral thigh flap is becoming one of the most preferred options for soft-tissue reconstruction. Between June of 1996 and August of 2000, 672 anterolateral thigh flaps were used in 660 patients at Chang Gung Memorial Hospital. Four hundred eighty-four anterolateral thigh flaps were used for head and neck region recontruction in 475 patients, 58 flaps were used for upper extremity reconstruction in 58 patients, 121 flaps were used for lower extremity reconstruction in 119 patients, and nine flaps were used for trunk reconstruction in nine patients. Of the 672 flaps used in total, a majority (439) were musculocutaneous perforator flaps. Sixty-five were septocutaneous vessel flaps. Of these 504 flaps, 350 were fasciocutaneous and 154 were cutaneous flaps. Of the remaining 168 flaps, 95 were musculocutaneous flaps, 63 were chimeric flaps, and the remaining ten were composite musculocutaneous perforator flaps with the tensor fasciae latae. Total flap failure occurred in 12 patients (1.79 percent of the flaps) and partial failure occurred in 17 patients (2.53 percent of the flaps). Of the 12 flaps that failed completely, five were reconstructed with second anterolateral thigh flaps, four with pedicled flaps, one with a free radial forearm flap, one with skin grafting, and one with primary closure. Of the 17 flaps that failed partially, three were reconstructed with anterolateral thigh flaps, one with a free radial forearm flap, five with pedicled flaps, and eight with primary suture, skin grafting, and conservative methods.In this large series, a consistent anatomy of the main pedicle of the anterolateral thigh flap was observed. In cutaneous and fasciocutaneous flaps, the skin vessels (musculocutaneous perforators or septocutaneous vessels) were found and followed until they reached the main pedicle, regardless of the anatomic position. There were only six cases in this series in which no skin vessels were identified during the harvesting of cutaneous or fasciocutaneous anterolateral thigh flaps. In 87.1 percent of the cutaneous or fasciocutaneous flaps, the skin vessels were found to be musculocutaneous perforators; in 12.9 percent, they were found as septocutaneous vessels. The anterolateral thigh flap is a reliable flap that supplies a large area of skin. This flap can be harvested irrespective of whether the skin vessels are septocutaneous or musculocutaneous. It is a versatile soft-tissue flap in which thickness and volume can be adjusted for the extent of the defect, and it can replace most soft-tissue free flaps in most clinical situations. (Plast. Reconstr. Surg. 109: 2219, 2002.)

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