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Abstracts: Commentary
January 2004

Free-Flap Mandibular Reconstruction: A 10-Year Follow-up Study

Author Affiliations

Houston, Tex


Houston, Tex

Arch Facial Plast Surg. 2004;6(1):65-66. doi:10.1001/archfaci.6.1.65

Hidalgo DA, Pusic ALPlast Reconstr Surg. 2002;110:438-449

Free-flap reconstruction of oncologic mandibular defects has become the modern standard of care. However, no previous studies have established the long-term results of such reconstructions. The objective of this study was to review functional and aesthetic outcomes in patients a decade after free-flap mandibular reconstruction. A single surgeon's experience with free-flap reconstruction of the mandible was retrospectively reviewed. Eighty-two consecutive patients who underwent reconstruction from January of 1987 to December of 1990 were identified. Of the 34 patients still alive, 20 agreed to participate (response rate, 59 percent). To assess complications and functional outcome, patients were interviewed using validated questions and questions developed specifically for the study. Aesthetic outcome was judged by two independent observers. Panorex radiographs were obtained to assess bone resorption. Bone height was measured at standardized locations on the body, ramus, and symphysis and compared with the immediate postoperative Panorex radiographs. Differences in Panorex magnification were adjusted for by comparison of miniplate measurements. Mean length of follow-up was 11 years. Mean patient age at the time of the study was 48 years. Nineteen of 20 patients had malignant disease, one of whom had a local recurrence during the follow-up period. Two patients received radiation therapy preoperatively and 13 postoperatively. Mean length of mandible resection was 13 cm. Defect types were as follows (Jewer's classification): 12 L, 4 H, 3 LC, and 1 LCL. All flaps survived. At 10-year follow-up, aesthetic outcome was judged to be excellent in 55 percent of patients, good in 20 percent, fair in 15 percent, and poor in 10 percent. The aesthetic results were remarkably stable over time. Slight accentuation of subtle postoperative asymmetry became evident as facial aging progressed. Dental rehabilitation in the study group included five patients with osteointegrated implants and seven with conventional dentures. Seventy percent of patients reported a regular diet. The remainder required a soft diet. Food tolerance was good, as rated by the List Scale (mean score, 77 percent). Seventeen patients had easily intelligible speech, whereas three were intelligible with effort. At the midbody of the mandible, 92 percent of the postoperative bone height was preserved; at the midramus, 93 percent was maintained; and at the symphysis, 92 percent remained. In several patients, there was greater age-related bone loss from the residual native mandible compared with the reconstructed site. One patient developed an orocutaneous fistula following postoperative radiation therapy. Nine patients had miniplates removed, either because of plate problems or to allow implant placement. There were no cases of osteoradionecrosis, bone fracture, or miniplate fracture. There was no significant long-term disability related to the donor site. Free-flap reconstruction of the mandible provides excellent functional and aesthetic results that remain stable over time. Bone resorption is surprisingly minimal, even in the face of postoperative radiation therapy. The majority of patients are able to tolerate a regular diet and to either wear dentures or acquire osteointegrated implants. Acceptable speech and appearance are restored and continue to be a source of patient satisfaction at least a decade after surgery.

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