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Br J Plast Surg. 2005 Apr;58(3):306-11.

Speech and swallowing following radial forearm flap reconstruction of major soft palate defects.

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Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery Unit and Department of Surgery, St Vincent's Hospital, 41 Victoria Parade, Fitzroy, Melbourne, Vic. 3065, Australia.


Velopharyngeal function is often compromised by the resection and reconstruction of oropharyngeal and palatal tumours. While free tissue transfer has improved the outcomes of head and neck reconstruction. In general, palatal reconstruction remains a challenge. Velopharyngeal function was analysed in eight patients following microsurgical reconstruction of defects of between 50 and 100% of the soft palate. The radial forearm fasciocutaneous free flap was used in all cases. The outcome of reconstruction was analysed by patient questionnaire and with standardised tests of speech and swallowing function. Velopharyngeal function post-operatively ranged from poor to near normal. Poor function appeared due to the loss of active elevation and contracture of the reconstructed palate producing failure of velopharyngeal closure during swallowing and speech. The results emphasise the limitations of reconstruction of a dynamic structure such as the soft palate with the static fold of skin and soft tissue produced by a fasciocutaneous flap. The relatively poor results obtained suggest that an anatomical approach to soft palate reconstruction is inadequate and reduction of the calibre of the velopharyngeal aperture is required to compensate for the lack of mobility in the reconstructed palate.

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