Helsingin yliopisto


Helsingin yliopiston verkkojulkaisut

University of Helsinki, Helsinki 2006

Functional Outcome after Free Flap Reconstructions in Oral and Pharyngeal Cancer

Mari Markkanen-Leppänen

Doctoral dissertation, May 2006.
University of Helsinki, Faculty of Medicine, Institute of Clinical Medicine, Department of Otorhinolaryngology, Head and Neck Surgery and Department of Plastic Surgery and Department of Radiology.

Oral cancer ranks among the 10 most common cancers worldwide. Since it is commonly diagnosed at locally advanced stage, curing the cancer demands extensive tissue resection. The emergent defect is reconstructed generally with a free flap transfer. Repair of the upper aerodigestive track with maintenance of its multiform activities is challenging. The aim of the study was to extract comprehensive treatment outcomes for patients having undergone microvascular free flap transfer because of large oral cavity or pharyngeal cancer.

Ninety-four patients were analyzed for postoperative survival and complications. Forty-four patients were followed-up and analyzed for functional outcome, which was determined in terms of quality of life, speech, swallowing, and intraoral sensation. Quality of life was assessed using the University of Washington Head and Neck Questionnaire. Speech was analyzed for aerodynamic parameters and for nasal acoustic energy, as well as perceptually for articulatory proficiency, voice quality, and intelligibility. Videofluorography was performed to determine the swallowing ability. Intraoral sensation was measured by moving 2-point discrimination.

The 3-year overall survival was over 40%. The 1-year disease-free survival was 43%. Postoperative complications arose in over half of the patients. Flap success rate was high. Perioperative mortality varied between 2% and 11%. Unemployment and heavy drinking were the strongest predictors of survival. Sociodemographic factors were found to associate with quality of life. The global quality of life score deteriorated and did not return to the preoperative level. Significant reduction was detectable in the domains measuring chewing and speech, and in appearance and shoulder function. The basic elements necessary for normal speech were maintained. Speech intelligibility reduced and was related to the misarticulations of the /r/ and /s/ phonemes. Deviant /r/ and /s/ persisted in most patients. Hoarseness and hypernasality occurred infrequently. One year postoperatively, 98% of the patients had achieved oral nutrition and half of them were on a regular masticated diet. Overt and silent aspiration was encountered throughout the follow-up. At 12-month swallow test, 44% of the patients aspirated, 70% of whom silently. Of these patients, 15% presented with pulmonary changes referring to aspiration. Intraoral sensation weakened but was unrelated to oral functions.

The results provide new data for oral reconstructions and highlight the importance of the functional outcome of the treatment for an oral cancer patient. The mouth and the pharynx encompass a unit of utmost functional complexity. Surgery should continue to make progress in this area, and methods that lead to good function should be developed. Operational outcome should always be evaluated in terms of function.

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Last updated 13.04.2006

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