Limb salvage for soft-tissue malignancies of the foot: an evaluation of free-tissue transfer

Plast Reconstr Surg. 2002 Jan;109(1):152-9. doi: 10.1097/00006534-200201000-00025.


Free flaps may safely allow meaningful ambulation, durable limb preservation, and better quality of life in patients undergoing resections of soft-tissue cancers of the foot. To prove this, the records of a series of patients at The University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center (n = 67) who underwent limb salvage following tumor-related resection (n = 71 procedures) from 1989 to 1999 were retrospectively reviewed. Eighteen patients who were not candidates for local flaps or skin grafts received a total of 20 free flaps to preserve their limbs. Most defects (mean size, 78 cm2; range, 20 to 150 cm2) were on a weight-bearing surface of the foot (nine on a weight-bearing heel, three on a plantar foot); the remainder were on a non-weight-bearing surface (six on dorsum, two on a non-weight-bearing heel). Melanoma was diagnosed in nine cases (50 percent); soft-tissue sarcoma, in seven (39 percent); and squamous cell carcinoma, in two (11 percent). Fasciocutaneous and skin-grafted muscle flaps were used on both weight-bearing and non-weight-bearing surfaces. Free-tissue transfer was successful in 17 of 20 cases (85 percent); the three flap losses occurred in two patients. Minor complications (i.e., small hematoma, partial skin graft loss, and delayed wound healing) occurred in five patients. In all cases of successful free-tissue transfer, patients began partial weight bearing at a mean of 7.4 weeks (range, 2 to 12 weeks), and all ultimately achieved full weight bearing. Sixty-seven percent still required special footwear. In one patient, an ulceration on the weight-bearing portion of the flap resolved after a footwear adjustment. Only one patient was lost to follow-up (mean, 23 months). In the 17 remaining patients, limb salvage succeeded in 15 (88 percent). Of these, nine (60 percent) were alive without evidence of disease, three (20 percent) were alive with disease, and three (20 percent) had died of disease. Local recurrence developed in two patients but was successfully treated by excision and closure. No late amputations were required for local control. Thus, it seems that free flaps help facilitate limb salvage and that they may preserve meaningful limb function in patients who undergo resection of soft-tissue malignancies of the foot.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell / surgery
  • Foot Diseases / surgery*
  • Humans
  • Limb Salvage
  • Melanoma / surgery
  • Middle Aged
  • Muscle, Skeletal / transplantation
  • Reconstructive Surgical Procedures / methods
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Sarcoma / surgery
  • Skin Neoplasms / surgery
  • Skin Transplantation
  • Soft Tissue Neoplasms / surgery*
  • Surgical Flaps*
  • Weight-Bearing