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Intercalary Resection of the Tibia for Primary Bone Tumors: Are Vascularized Fibula Autografts With or Without Allografts a Durable Reconstruction?

BACKGROUND: Reconstruction with vascularized fibula grafts (VFG) after intercalary resection of sarcoma may offer longevity by providing early graft-host union and fracture healing. The ability of the fibula to hypertrophy under mechanical stress, as well as vascularized bone in the area, may also be advantageous, given that soft tissues may be compromised because of resection, chemotherapy, or radiation therapy. VFG with a massive allograft combines the primary mechanical stability of the graft with the biological potential of the vascularized fibula; however, complications and the durability of this combined reconstruction are not well described.

QUESTIONS/PURPOSES: (1) What was the proportion of complications after reconstruction with VFG, with or without allografts? (2) What was the functional result after surgical treatment as assessed by the Musculoskeletal Tumor Society (MSTS) score? (3) What was the survivorship of these grafts free from revision and graft removal?

METHODS: Between 1988 and 2021, 219 patients were treated at our institution for a primary malignant or aggressive benign bone tumor of the tibia with en bloc resection. Of those, 54% (119 of 219) had proximal tibial tumors with epiphyseal involvement and were treated with either intra-articular resection and reconstruction with an osteoarticular allograft, allograft-prosthesis composite (APC), or modular prosthesis according to age, diagnosis, and preoperative or postoperative radiotherapy. Nine percent (20) of patients had distal tibial tumors that were treated with intra-articular resection and reconstruction with ankle arthrodesis using allogenic or autologous grafts, and 0.5% (1 patient) underwent total tibial resection for extensive tumoral involvement of the tibia and reconstruction with an APC. Thirty-six percent (79) of patients had a metadiaphyseal bone tumor of the tibia and were treated with intercalary joint-sparing resection. We routinely use reconstruction with VFG after intercalary tibial resection for primary malignant or aggressive benign bone tumors in patients with long life expectancy and high functional demands and in whom at least 1 cm of residual bone stock of the proximal or distal epiphysis can be preserved. By contrast, we routinely use intercalary massive allograft reconstruction in short resections or in patients with metastatic disease who do not have long life expectancy. We avoid VFG in patients with tibial bone metastasis, patients older than 70 years, or primary bone tumors in patients who may undergo postoperative radiotherapy; in these patients, we use alternative reconstructive methods such as intercalary prostheses, plate and cement, or intramedullary nailing with cement augmentation. According to the above-mentioned indications, 6% (5 of 79) of patients underwent massive allograft reconstruction because they were young and had intercalary resections shorter than 7 cm or had metastatic disease at diagnosis without long life expectancy, whereas 94% (74) of patients underwent VFG reconstruction. The median age at operation was 16 years (range 5 to 68 years). The diagnosis was high-grade osteosarcoma in 22 patients, Ewing sarcoma in 19, adamantinoma in 16, low-grade osteosarcoma in five, fibrosarcoma in three, malignant fibrous histiocytoma and Grade 2 chondrosarcoma in two, and malignant myoepitelioma, angiosarcoma of bone, malignant peripheral nerve sheath tumor of bone, squamous cell carcinoma secondary to chronic osteomyelitis, and desmoplastic fibroma in one patient each. Median follow-up was 12.3 years (range 2 to 35 years). The median tibial resection length was 15 cm (range 7 to 27 cm), and the median fibular resection length was 18 cm (range 10 to 29 cm). VFG was used with a massive allograft in 55 patients, alone in 12 patients, and combined with allogenic cortical bone struts in seven patients. We used VFG combined with a massive allograft in patients undergoing juxta-articular, joint-sparing resections that left less than 3 cm of residual epiphyseal bone, for intra-epiphyseal resections, or for long intercalary resections wherein the allograft can provide better mechanical stability. In these clinical situations, the combination of a VFG and massive allograft allows more stable fixation and better tendinous reattachment of the patellar tendon. VFG was used with cortical bone struts in distal tibia intercalary resections where the narrow diameter of the allograft did not allow concentric assembling with the fibula. Finally, VFG alone was often used after mid- or distal tibia intercalary resection in patients with critical soft tissue conditions because of previous surgery, in whom the combination with massive allograft would result in a bulkier reconstruction. We ascertained complications and MSTS scores by chart review, and survivorship free from revision and graft removal was calculated using the Kaplan-Meier estimator. In our study, however, the occurrence of death as a competing event was observed in a relatively low proportion of patients, and only occurred after the primary event of interest had already occurred. Considering the nature of our data, we did not consider death after the primary event of interest as a competing event.

RESULTS: In all, 49% (36 of 74) of patients experienced complications and underwent operative treatment. There were 45 complications in 36 patients. There was one instance of footdrop secondary to common peroneal nerve palsy, four wound problems, one acute vein thrombosis of the VFG pedicle and one necrosis of the skin island, two episodes of implant-related pain, 10 nonunions, six fractures, six deep infections, nine local recurrences, one Achilles tendon retraction, one varus deformity of the proximal tibia with postoperative tibial apophysis detachment, one knee osteoarthritis, and one hypometria. The median MSTS score was 30 (range 23 to 30); the MSTS score was assessed only in patients in whom the VFG was retained at the final clinical visit, although if we had considered those who had an amputation, the overall score would be lower. Revision-free survival of the reconstructions was 58% (95% confidence interval 47% to 70%) at 5 years, 52% (95% CI 41% to 65%) at 10 and 15 years, and 49% (95% CI 38% to 63%) at 20 and 30 years. Eight patients underwent VFG removal because of complications, with an overall reconstruction survival of 91% (95% CI 84% to 98%) at 5 years and 89% (95% CI 82% to 97%) at 10 to 30 years.

CONCLUSION: VFG, alone or combined with an allograft, could be considered in reconstructing a lower extremity after intercalary resections of the tibia for primary bone tumors, and it avoids the use of a large endoprosthesis. However, this procedure was associated with frequent, often severe complications during the first postoperative years and complication-free survival of 58% at 5 years. Nearly 10% of patients ultimately had an amputation. For patients whose reconstruction succeeded, the technique provides a durable reconstruction with good MSTS scores, and we believe it is useful for active patients with long life expectancy. Fractures, frequently observed in the first 5 years postoperatively, might be reduced using long-spanning plate fixation, and that appeared to be the case in our study. Nonbridging fixation can be an option in intraepiphyseal resection when a spanning plate cannot be used or in pediatric patients to enhance fibula hypertrophy and remodeling. We did not directly compare VFG with or without allografts to other reconstruction options, so the decision to use this approach should be made thoughtfully and only after considering the potential serious risks.

LEVEL OF EVIDENCE: Level IV, therapeutic study.

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