August 1997

Lateral Arm Microvascular Flap in Head and Neck Reconstruction

Author Affiliations

From the Departments of Otolaryngology, the University of Miami School of Medicine, Miami, Fla (Drs Civantos and Lu), and the University of Vanderbilt, Nashville, Tenn (Drs Burkey and Armstrong).

Arch Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. 1997;123(8):830-836. doi:10.1001/archotol.1997.01900080062007

Objectives:  To report our results of a study of 28 patients who underwent sequential reconstructions of the head and neck using the lateral arm flap. To discuss the situations where we have found the procedure useful, report the complication rates, and delineate the advantages and disadvantages of using this flap.

Design:  A clinical series of patients was followed up prospectively. The swallowing function of a subgroup that underwent oropharyngeal reconstruction was compared with that of a simultaneous control group that underwent reconstruction with the pectoralis major flap.

Setting:  University medical center.

Participants:  Patients with malignant neoplasms of the head and neck who underwent resections and reconstruction with the lateral arm flap.

Interventions:  Twenty-eight patients underwent head and neck reconstruction using lateral arm flaps. In 17 patients, the lateral arm flaps were used for pharyngeal and posterior oral cavity defects. Thirteen of these patients underwent reinnervation. Nine combined palatal and midfacial defects were reconstructed, and 1 lateral facial defect was reconstructed. Most cases were advanced malignant neoplasms and represented a selected minority of similar resections performed at our institutions. Three maxillary reconstructions were performed secondarily. All other reconstructions were performed at the time of tumor ablation.

Main Outcome Measures:  Data were collected regarding flap survival, return of sensation in flaps, complication rates, and the ability to feed orally.

Results:  All flaps survived in their entirety. Of 7,5 tested flaps acquired sensation. Of 14 patients with large oropharyngeal defects, 8 resumed early oral feeding and all survivors eventually obtained nutrition orally. The ability to swallow was superior to the results obtained in a retrospective analysis of a group reconstructed using pectoralis major flaps.

Conclusions:  A unique feature of this flap is that it incorporates both thin skin from the proximal forearm and thicker skin from the upper arm. This is ideal for an oropharyngeal defect, where the thin malleable portion can be used in the posterior oral cavity or pharyngeal wall and the thicker portion in the tongue base. Either portion can be used alone as well. The availability of intermediate tissue bulk can also be advantageous for midfacial reconstruction. Sensation can be reliably reconstituted with this flap. We think that the lateral arm flap is versatile and has particularly low donor-site morbidity.Arch Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. 1997;123:830-836