Objectives/Hypothesis To evaluate the role of regional and free tissue transfer for the palliative management of head and neck cancer with extensive skin involvement. Study Design Case Series. Methods A retrospective review was performed of patients treated for head and neck cancer with involvement of the skin at the Mount Sinai Medical Center over a 5-year period (2006-2010). Only patients with extensive skin involvement and unresectable tumors who underwent palliative resection and reconstruction were included in the review. Subjects were analyzed for age, gender, performance status, primary site, tumor histology, extent of invasion, type of reconstruction, hospital course, wound complications, adjuvant therapy, survival, and cause of death. Results Twenty-five patients met the inclusion criteria for the review. Fourteen patients (56%) underwent regional flap reconstruction, and 11 patients (44%) underwent free flap reconstruction. The average length of stay was 7 days. Twenty-four patients (96%) had a medically uncomplicated postoperative hospital course. Nineteen patients (76%) were treated with adjuvant palliative radiotherapy and/or chemotherapy. Long-term follow-up was achieved for 19 patients. The median follow up in this group was 9.5 months. Eleven of the 21 patients (52%) developed wound complications postoperatively. Eight of these were minor wound dehiscences, while three developed major wound complications. Four patients (16%) had distant metastasis at the time of surgery, and the median time to develop distant metastases after surgery was 6 months. Median survival time was 9.5 months. Twenty-two patients (88%) were discharged in the care of their families with appropriate pain management and without the need for extensive wound care. Conclusions For unresectable tumors with extensive skin involvement, palliative resection and reconstruction is a reasonable treatment option. Although survival may not be affected, addressing the odor, bleeding, pain, and infection associated with skin involvement has the potential to improve a patient's quality of life.
- Palliative surgery
- advanced head and neck cancer
- free flap
- skin involvement