Through-and-through oral cancer (T4+) involving contiguous mucosa, mandible, and skin is a devastating disease with poor prognosis and represents one of the most difficult reconstructive challenges in head and neck surgery. Thirty-eight patients underwent immediate microvascular reconstruction following surgical tumor ablation. The purpose of the present review was to assess the value of microvascular reconstruction in these essentially palliative reconstructive efforts.
The iliac crest osteocutaneous flap was used in the majority of patients and was found to be ideal for the reconstruction of large bony and soft-tissue defects present in this group of patients. Other methods, including pectoralis major, forehead, and latissimus dorsi flaps, also were used in the soft-tissue reconstruction. The mean follow-up was 16 ± 2 months, and the mean hospitalization was 43 ± 22 days. The majority of patients succumbed to recurrent or related diseases, yet a few went on to survival despite the initial advanced stage of disease. A number of complications were observed. However, most patients developed normal or easily intelligible speech (65 percent), and most (78 percent) had their tracheostomies closed and sustained themselves on an oral soft diet (84 percent). Bony union was noted in the majority of patients (73 percent).
Although the prognosis in full-thickness oral carcinoma is grim, it appears that palliative surgery in these cases is well justified. The goals are to shorten the duration of hospitalization, reduce morbidity, and improve the remaining quality of life. Microvascular tissue transfer offers a means to achieve these goals in a single, reliable procedure. We feel that immediate one-stage bone and soft-tissue reconstruction restores dignity and relieves suffering in this unfortunate group of individuals. (Plast. Reconstr. Surg. 93: 44, 1994.)