Comparison of the radial forearm flap and the thinned anterolateral thigh cutaneous flap for reconstruction of tongue defects: an evaluation of donor-site morbidity

Chih-Hung Huang, Hung-Chi Chen, Yau-Lin Huang, Samir Mardini, Guan-Ming Feng
Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery 2004, 114 (7): 1704-10
The radial forearm flap is commonly used for reconstruction of tongue defects following tumor extirpation. This flap is easy to harvest and offers thin tissue with large-caliber vessels. However, its use leaves behind a conspicuous aesthetic deformity in the forearm and requires the sacrifice of a major artery of that limb, the radial artery. The anterolateral thigh cutaneous flap has found clinical applications in the reconstruction of soft-tissue defects requiring thin tissue. More recently, in a thinned form, the anterolateral thigh flap has been used for reconstructing defects of the tongue with functional results equivalent to that of the radial forearm flap. For the reconstruction of tongue defects, these two flaps could provide similar soft-tissue coverage, but they seem to result in different donor-site appearances. The donor site is closed primarily, leaving only a linear scar that is inconspicuous with normal clothing, and no functional deficit is left behind in the thigh. Thus, for the supply of flaps for tongue defects, a comparison between the radial forearm flap and the anterolateral thigh flap donor sites is provided in this study. Between December of 2000 and August of 2002, 41 patients who underwent reconstruction of defects of the tongue using either a radial forearm flap or an anterolateral thigh flap were evaluated. The focus was on the evaluation of the functional and aesthetic outcome of the donor site after harvesting these flaps for the purpose of reconstructing either total or partial tongue defects. Finally, a comparison was performed between the donor sites of the two flaps. The disadvantages of the radial forearm flap include the conspicuous unattractive scar in the forearm region, pain, numbness, and the sacrifice of a major artery of the limb. In some patients, the donor-site scar of the forearm acted as a social stigma, preventing these patients from leading a normal life. In contrast, the anterolateral thigh cutaneous flap, after thinning, achieved the same results in reconstructing defects of the tongue without the associated donor-site morbidity. Most importantly, the donor site in the thigh could be closed primarily in almost all patients without any functional deficit. The thinned anterolateral thigh cutaneous flap is a viable substitute for the radial forearm flap when reconstructing defects of the tongue. The results achieved are similar to those of the radial forearm flap, and the donor-site morbidity is significantly decreased.

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