Functional outcomes of sensate versus insensate free flap reconstruction in oral and oropharyngeal reconstruction: A systematic review

Head Neck. 2016 Nov;38(11):1717-1721. doi: 10.1002/hed.24494. Epub 2016 Apr 30.


The purposes of this article were to review the literature regarding subjective outcomes, objective functional outcomes, and objective sensation return after sensate and/or insensate free flap reconstruction of the oral cavity and oropharynx. Sensate radial forearm and anterolateral thigh free flaps tend to have better static 2-point discrimination and pressure threshold sensitivity than insensate flaps. There is insufficient evidence to draw conclusions on whether sensate flaps improve functional speech and swallowing outcomes measured by videofluoroscopic swallowing studies and percentage of word intelligibility by a listener blinded to the study. These data highlight the complexity and number of variables affecting functional outcomes in patients who have undergone reconstructive surgery after oral and oropharyngeal cancer ablative operations. A prospective randomized multicenter study that properly and rigidly stratifies patients by defect, flap and recipient nerve choice, adjuvant therapies, and uses widely agreed upon pretreatment and posttreatment evaluation tools could help to answer this important question. © 2016 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. Head Neck 38: 1708-1716, 2016.

Keywords: 2-point discrimination; free flap reconstruction; functional outcome; glossectomy; innervated; insensate; mastication; sensate; speech; swallowing.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Forearm
  • Humans
  • Mouth / surgery*
  • Mouth Neoplasms / surgery
  • Oropharyngeal Neoplasms / surgery
  • Oropharynx / surgery*
  • Quality of Life
  • Reconstructive Surgical Procedures / methods*
  • Surgical Flaps / innervation*
  • Thigh
  • Tongue / surgery
  • Treatment Outcome