Purpose of review: Marginal mandibular nerve palsy (MMNP) is often an understated complication after neck dissection. This article reviews literature regarding anatomic landmarks that help define marginal mandibular nerve (MMN) during neck dissection, oncologic safety of surgical maneuvers, implications of MMNP, and reconstructive options.
Recent findings: A thorough knowledge of anatomy of the nerve can aid in its preservation. Course, branching pattern and communications of MMN are extremely variable. The Hayes Martin method classically described to preserve the nerve may not be oncologically safe in patients with prefacial nodal involvement. MMNP significantly affects quality of life after neck dissection. Cause, timing, and degree of neural damage play an important role in determining diagnostic and therapeutic options to correct the deformity resulting from MMNP. Owing to treatment-related factors, functionality of local structures may be compromised, which limits available reconstructive options for the surgeon. This should favor a shift of management option toward more conservative procedures in patients treated for head and neck cancer.
Summary: When oncologically safe, the MMN must always be preserved. The patient perceived deformity resulting from MMNP is significantly higher than clinician-detected rate. In select patients who are affected by significant smile asymmetry, multiple dynamic and static corrective procedures can be offered.