Timing of Primary Surgery for Cleft Palate

N Engl J Med. 2023 Aug 31;389(9):795-807. doi: 10.1056/NEJMoa2215162.


Background: Among infants with isolated cleft palate, whether primary surgery at 6 months of age is more beneficial than surgery at 12 months of age with respect to speech outcomes, hearing outcomes, dentofacial development, and safety is unknown.

Methods: We randomly assigned infants with nonsyndromic isolated cleft palate, in a 1:1 ratio, to undergo standardized primary surgery at 6 months of age (6-month group) or at 12 months of age (12-month group) for closure of the cleft. Standardized assessments of quality-checked video and audio recordings at 1, 3, and 5 years of age were performed independently by speech and language therapists who were unaware of the trial-group assignments. The primary outcome was velopharyngeal insufficiency at 5 years of age, defined as a velopharyngeal composite summary score of at least 4 (scores range from 0 to 6, with higher scores indicating greater severity). Secondary outcomes included speech development, postoperative complications, hearing sensitivity, dentofacial development, and growth.

Results: We randomly assigned 558 infants at 23 centers across Europe and South America to undergo surgery at 6 months of age (281 infants) or at 12 months of age (277 infants). Speech recordings from 235 infants (83.6%) in the 6-month group and 226 (81.6%) in the 12-month group were analyzable. Insufficient velopharyngeal function at 5 years of age was observed in 21 of 235 infants (8.9%) in the 6-month group as compared with 34 of 226 (15.0%) in the 12-month group (risk ratio, 0.59; 95% confidence interval, 0.36 to 0.99; P = 0.04). Postoperative complications were infrequent and similar in the 6-month and 12-month groups. Four serious adverse events were reported (three in the 6-month group and one in the 12-month group) and had resolved at follow-up.

Conclusions: Medically fit infants who underwent primary surgery for isolated cleft palate in adequately resourced settings at 6 months of age were less likely to have velopharyngeal insufficiency at the age of 5 years than those who had surgery at 12 months of age. (Funded by the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research; TOPS ClinicalTrials.gov number, NCT00993551.).

Publication types

  • Multicenter Study
  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Allied Health Personnel
  • Child, Preschool
  • Cleft Palate* / complications
  • Cleft Palate* / surgery
  • Diagnostic Techniques, Surgical
  • Europe
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Postoperative Complications / epidemiology
  • South America
  • Velopharyngeal Insufficiency* / diagnosis
  • Velopharyngeal Insufficiency* / etiology

Associated data

  • ClinicalTrials.gov/NCT00993551