Immediate Use of Uncuffed Tracheostomy after Free Flap Reconstruction of the Head and Neck

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To determine if immediate postoperative uncuffed tracheostomy placement following oral cavity or oropharyngeal head and neck free flap reconstruction is associated with shorter hospital length of stay and higher inpatient decannulation rates without an increase in respiratory complications, as compared with immediate placement of cuffed tracheostomy.

Study Design

Retrospective cohort.


Tertiary referral center.

Subjects and Methods

Patients were included if they underwent free flap reconstruction for oral cavity or oropharyngeal squamous cell carcinoma and had an intraoperative tracheostomy placed between 2005 and 2016. In 2012, head and neck surgeons changed from routine placement of cuffed to uncuffed tracheostomy tubes immediately after free flap reconstruction. This study compares length of hospital stay, inpatient decannulation rates, and respiratory complications between patients who had cuffed and uncuffed tracheostomies. Analysis of variance and chi-square test were used to examine continuous and categorical variables, respectively. Multivariable regression analyses were performed to determine whether cuff status was independently associated with primary outcomes of length of hospital stay, decannulation, and respiratory complications.


Of 752 patients who underwent free flap reconstruction, 493 patients met inclusion criteria (cuffed, n = 366; uncuffed, n = 127). Patient variables (ie, age, sex, body mass index, prior chemoradiation) and tumor characteristics (ie, location, stage) did not differ significantly between groups. Adjusted analysis showed that an uncuffed tracheostomy (vs a cuffed tracheostomy) was associated with shorter length of stay (7.7 vs 9.7 days, P < .001) and did not increase the rate of respiratory complications.


Immediate placement of a uncuffed tracheostomy after oral cavity or oropharyngeal free flap reconstruction is associated with shorter hospital stays without an increase in respiratory complications.

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