Free flaps for head and neck cancer in paediatric and neonatal patients

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Abstract

Purpose of review

To review recent literature on the subject of free tissue transfer options in paediatric head and neck surgery, with a particular emphasis on highlighting the advantages and disadvantages of different reconstructions in the paediatric patient.

Recent findings

Free tissue transfer in paediatric patients is predictable and applicable for a wide range of congenital and acquired defects in the head and neck. The free fibula flap is a mainstay of mandibular reconstruction and allows excellent implant-supported prosthodontic rehabilitation and growth potential at the recipient site with little or no donor site morbidity. Other less commonly explored options include the deep circumflex iliac artery flap, scapula flap and medial femoral condyle flap. The gracilis mucle remains the mainstay for facial reanimation with other options including pectoralis minor, rectus abdominis, extensor digitorum brevis and latissimus dorsi. There are compelling arguments for centralization of services and creative strategies in postoperative rehabilitation (e.g. play therapy).

Summary

Free flaps in paediatric patients are a viable option and may even have advantages relative to adults because of the absence of atherosclerosis, purported lower risk of vasospasm and proportionally larger vessel size. Transfer earlier in life maximizes functional potential and ‘normalizes’ treatment.

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