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Ear Nose Throat J. 2004 Jan;83(1):45-8.

Functional outcomes following palatal reconstruction with a folded radial forearm free flap.

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Department of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery, Keck School of Medicine, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA 90033, USA.


Defects of the soft palate often occur after extirpative procedures are performed to treat oropharyngeal cancers. These defects usually result in velopharyngeal insufficiency and an alteration in speech and deglutition. Palatal prostheses have been used to circumvent this problem in the past. Recently, however, folded radial forearmfreeflaps have been introduced for reconstruction of the soft palate to eliminate velopharyngeal insufficiency and the need for a prosthesis. We conducted a study to evaluate pharyngeal and palatal functions following reconstruction of soft-palate defects with radial forearm free flaps in 16 patients who had undergone resection of the soft palate for squamous cell carcinoma. Nine patients had partial soft-palate defects and 7 had total defects. All patients had lateral pharyngeal-wall defects. In addition, 14 patients had defects of the base of the tongue. Patients were followed for 3 to 40 months. Outcome measures were determined according to several parameters, including postoperative complications, resumption of diet, intelligibility of speech, and decannulation. All patients were evaluated by a speech pathologist and an otolaryngologist with a bedside swallowing evaluation and flexible nasopharyngoscopy. Twelve patients underwent videofluoroscopic studies. There was no incidence of flap failure. One patient developed a transient salivary fistula, which resolved with conservative management. Four patients without dysphagia resumed oral intake 2 weeks after surgery. The 12 patients with dysphagia underwent swallowing therapy. Ten of them responded and were able to resume oral intake, while the other 2 required a palatal prosthesis. Overall, 10 patients resumed a normal diet and 4 tolerated a soft diet within 6 weeks. The 2 patients who required a palatal prosthesis were able to take purees. All patients were decannulated, and all were able to speak intelligibly. Speech was hypernasal in 2 patients and hyponasal in 3. We conclude that the folded radial forearm free flap procedure is a useful alternative for reconstruction of palatal and pharyngeal defects. It is safe and effective, and it results in excellent functional outcomes.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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