Anterior cranial base reconstruction using free tissue transfer: changing trends

Joseph Califano, Peter G Cordeiro, Joseph J Disa, David A Hidalgo, Wilson DuMornay, Mark H Bilsky, Philip H Gutin, Jatin P Shah, Dennis H Kraus
Head & Neck 2003, 25 (2): 89-96

INTRODUCTION: A consecutive series of 135 patients undergoing resection for malignant tumors involving the anterior cranial base between 1976 and 1999 was reviewed.

PATIENT AND METHODS: In the years from 1976-1991, free-tissue transfer was used in 5 of 76 or 6.6% of cases, whereas free-tissue reconstruction was used in 24 of 59 or 40% of cases in the years 1992-1999. Of those cases reconstructed with free-tissue transfer in 1976-1991, 60% (three of five) underwent a complex resection defined as involving dura, brain, or more than one major structure adjacent to skull base. Of those patients reconstructed with conventional (pericranial or pericranial/galeal) pedicled flaps in this time period, 35% (25 of 71) underwent a complex resection. From 1992-1999, 75% (18 of 24) of patients reconstructed with free-tissue transfer received a complex resection, whereas only 6% (2 of 35) of patients reconstructed by other means received a complex resection.

OUTCOMES: For those patients reconstructed by free-tissue transfer, there were no instances of flap loss. Comparison of these two time periods was notable for a similar patient composition in terms of age, histologic findings, and extent of resection. Major complication rates for patients who are reconstructed with free-tissue transfer for anterior cranial base resections (31%) are similar compared with patients who have been reconstructed with conventional pedicled flaps (35%). This was noted despite an increased extent and complexity of resection in those patients who underwent free-tissue transfer reconstruction (72%) compared with those patients reconstructed by more conventional means (26%) p <.001.

CONCLUSION: In our institution, the use of vascularized, free-tissue transfer has replaced pedicled flaps as the preferred modality for reconstructing complex anterior cranial base defects involving resection of dura, brain, or multiple major structures adjacent to local skull base, including the orbit, palate, and other structures. Complication rates for patients reconstructed with free-tissue transfer techniques is similar to those patients reconstructed by conventional techniques, despite an increase in complexity of resection in this group.

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