Reliable reconstructive techniques are essential in the surgical treatment of head and neck cancer patients. Free flaps have often been used as reconstructive options of last resort in the head and neck because of the need for added technical skill, a longer operating time, and a perception of poor reliability. This study reviews our experience with 39 free flaps performed by the Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery Service. For the first 17 cases, an interrupted anastomotic technique was used; a running technique was performed in the remaining 22 cases. The average total ischemic time (3.7 vs. 2.7 hours; p < 0.001) was significantly less with a running technique. There were 10 complications: 7 minor wound problems, 1 death from aspiration without surgical wound/flap problem, and 2 cases requiring second flaps (1 flap necrosis, 1 fistula with healthy free flap). No statistical correlation was found between complications and ischemic time, suture technique, age, or hospital (five hospitals). Free flaps are reliable and may obviate the need for sacrifice of trunk muscles for wound closure (e.g., fasciocutaneous free flaps instead of myocutaneous flaps); therefore we recommend revascularized free flaps as the primary mode of reconstruction for head and neck defects.
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