Controversies in free tissue transfer for head and neck cancer: A review of the literature

Marianne Abouyared, Andrew P. Katz, Liliana Ein, Jill Ketner, Zoukaa Sargi, Elizabeth Nicolli, Jason M. Leibowitz

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


Background: Microvascular free tissue transfer provides superior functional outcomes when reconstructing head and neck cancer defects. Careful patient selection and surgical planning is necessary to ensure success, as many preoperative, intraoperative, and postoperative patient and technical factors may affect outcome. Aims: To provide a concise, yet thorough, review of the current literature regarding free flap patient selection and management for the patient with head and neck. Materials and Methods: PubMed and Cochrane databases were queried for publications pertaining to free tissue transfer management and outcomes. Results: Malnutrition and tobacco use are modifiable patient factors that negatively impact surgical outcomes. The use of postoperative antiplatelet medications and perioperative antibiotics for greater than 24 hours have not been shown to improve outcomes, although the use of clindamycin alone has been shown to have a higher risk of flap failure. Liberal blood transfusion should be avoided due to higher risk of wound infection and medical complications. Discussion: There is a wide range of beliefs regarding proper management of patients undergoing free tissue transfer. While there is some data to support these practices, much of the data is conflicting and common practices are often continued out of habit or dogma. Conclusion: Free flap reconstruction remains a highly successful surgery overall despite as many different approaches to patient care as there are free flap surgeons. Close patient monitoring remains a cornerstone of surgical success.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3457-3463
Number of pages7
JournalHead and Neck
Issue number9
StatePublished - Jan 1 2019
Externally publishedYes


  • free flap
  • head and neck cancer
  • microvascular surgery
  • reconstruction

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Otorhinolaryngology


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