Objective/hypothesis: To demonstrate that the osteocutaneous radial forearm free flap provides equivalent functional outcomes and improved morbidity compared to the fibular free flap in mandibular reconstruction.
Study design: Retrospective review.
Methods: There were 168 patients requiring free flap reconstruction of segmental mandibular defects between January 2001 and December 2008. Mean follow-up was 31 months for fibula free flap (FFF) (n = 117) and 20 months for osteocutaneous radial forearm free flaps (OCRFFF) (n = 51), reflecting an increasing use of forearms.
Results: OCRFFF were more commonly used in older patients (mean 63.7 years vs. 59 years, P = .03). The majority (96.2%) of reconstruction was for malignant pathology. Flap failure was 3.4% for the fibula group and 3.9% in the forearm group. Malunion was infrequent (2.0% OCRFFF, 6.0% FFF, P = .26). Donor site complications were higher in the FFF group (4.3%) versus none in the OCRFF group (P = .13). Despite a high rate of long-term survival in this patient population (75% at 5 years for carcinoma), dental implants were rarely placed (2.3% of patients) and were more common in forearm than fibula free flaps. Functional outcomes demonstrated no significant difference between groups with respect to oral diet (FFF 72.6% vs. OCRFFF 79.1%, P = .49) or retained enterogastric feeding tube (20.9% OCRFFF vs. 27.4% FFF, P = .49).
Conclusions: Osteocutaneous radial forearm flaps provide comparable functional outcomes with less morbidity compared to fibula free flaps for selected segmental mandibulectomy defects. The overall dental implantation rate was low and more commonly performed in osteocutaneous radial forearm flaps compared to fibula flaps.