The use of prophylactic antibiotics in head and neck oncological surgery

Ricard Simo, Gary French
Current Opinion in Otolaryngology & Head and Neck Surgery 2006, 14 (2): 55-61

PURPOSE OF REVIEW: An overview of best evidence-based current practice in the use of prophylactic antibiotics in elective oncological head and neck surgery is presented.

RECENT FINDINGS: Patients undergoing head and neck oncological surgery are at great risk of developing complications following surgery. The incidence of wound infection has been reported to be as high as 87%, often with devastating effects. Prophylactic antibiotics have helped to reduce significantly the risk of infection; however, clinicians managing these patients should also have a thorough understanding of the risk factors leading to postoperative infections and should apply the most basic surgical principles at all times, to minimize infection rates.

SUMMARY: Prophylactic antibiotics usage in clean-contaminated major oncological head and neck surgery is mandatory to reduce the risk of infection. In clean major oncological head and neck surgery their use is also advisable but there is no evidence that in clean surgery for benign disease it offers any advantage. Short antibiotic regimes of four doses per 24 h are as effective as prolonged courses regardless of the complexity of the procedure. A combination of antibiotic agents covering aerobic, anaerobic and Gram-negative bacteria is superior to single agents. High-risk patients should be also given short regimes, as there is no evidence that prolonged courses are of more benefit in these patients. Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus infection can have devastating consequences for patients undergoing major head and neck surgery. Protocols of prevention and treatment should be in place in all institutions treating patients with head and neck cancer. Close collaboration between surgical, microbiology and infection-control teams is essential.

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