INTRODUCTION: Sternal cleft (SC) is a rare congenital deformity that results from failure of sternal bar fusion. Sternal cleft can be categorized as superior partial, inferior partial, or complete. Each form of SC can present as an isolated defect or in association with other congenital deformities, which presents a unique challenge for reconstructive surgeons. In our systematic review, we aim to summarize the published experience on repair of SCs and present a pragmatic approach to help guide reconstructive planning. METHODS: A systematic review was performed to identify all reported SC cases in literature that underwent sternal reconstruction. RESULTS: Seventy-one studies were identified from 1970 to 2019, which included a total of 115 patients. Superior partial SC was the most common SC variant, accounting for 65.2% (75/115) of all reported cases. There were 31 cases of complete SC (27.0%) and 9 cases (7.8%) of inferior partial SC; 49.6% of the patients (57/115) in our review had isolated SC without any other congenital deformities. Sixty-seven patients (60.3%) were treated with primary closure, with or without secondary maneuvers, such as chondrotomies, cartilage resection, or periosteal flaps. Alternative methods included interposition grafts, with autologous rib graft in 18 patients (15.8%), permanent mesh in 8 patients (7.0%), acellular dermal matrix in 5 patients (4.4%), sternal plate flap in 5 patients (4.4%), and nonthoracic autologous bone grafts in 4 patients (3.5%). CONCLUSIONS: Our review supports that primary closure should be attempted regardless of patient age. For wider sternal gap, reconstruction with an autologous local graft or flap should be considered. When the patient does not have sufficient autologous tissue for a successful sternal reconstruction, alloplastic or allograft interposition options are a reasonable choice.
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