CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 · Int Arch Otorhinolaryngol 2021; 25(01): e71-e76
DOI: 10.1055/s-0040-1709115
Original Research

Submental Artery Island Flap in Oral Cavity Reconstruction. An Observational, Retrospective Two-centre Study

Adonis Tupac Ramirez
1  Department of Head and Neck Surgery, Clínica Medilaser, Neiva, Huila, Colombia
,
2  Department of Otorhinolaryngology – Head and Neck surgery, Hospital Universitario Donostia, San Sebastian – Donosti, Guipuzkoa – Basque, Spain
,
José Ángel González-García
2  Department of Otorhinolaryngology – Head and Neck surgery, Hospital Universitario Donostia, San Sebastian – Donosti, Guipuzkoa – Basque, Spain
› Institutsangaben
 

Abstract

Introduction The submental flap provides an alternative technique in orofacial reconstruction, especially in situations in which free flaps are not available, or the patients are unfit.

Objective To demonstrate the oncological safety and benefits of this flap in oral cavity reconstruction.

Methods A total of 14 patients with oral cavity cancers, who underwent submental flap reconstruction from January 2016 to January 2018, were included in the study.

Results There were 11 male and 3 female patients with a mean age of 66.7 ± 14 (Min: 52/Max: 91) years old. The most common primary tumor site was the mobile tongue in 12 (85.7%) patients. All of the patients underwent ipsilateral selective neck dissection after the flap was harvested. Flap partial necrosis was observed in one patient, and total necrosis in another one. The mean follow-up was of one year. Nonlocal or regional recurrences were observed.

Conclusion Submental island flap represents a good option in oral cavity reconstruction in a restricted setting or in patients considered not fit for free flap reconstruction. Preoperative selection of clinically neck node-negative patients is essential due to the potential risk of occult metastasis.


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Introduction

Oral squamous cell carcinoma (OSCC) represents the sixth most common cancer worldwide and usually affects middle-aged and elderly individuals.[1] [2] [3] This kind of tumors may compromise the mucosa of the floor of the mouth, the cheek, the tongue and the inner lip surface, being the oral tongue the most common oral subsite affected.[4]

Reconstruction of soft tissue defects of the oral cavity represents a complex surgical situation. Nowadays, the use of microvascular free flaps is considered the gold standard. However, its use elevates costs for healthcare providers, requires surgical team expertise, prolonged surgical time and prolonged hospital stay. Therefore, a free flap is not always the ideal option or can be contraindicated. In these cases, locoregional flaps represent a valid alternative. Also, locoregional flaps can work as a backup preautonomized flap when partial or total necrosis develops in previously placed locoregional or free flaps, which requires a salvage procedure.[5] This explains the resurrection of several local and regional flaps in recent years,[6] and why nowadays pedicled and free flaps have concurred for the same indications in many cases.[6]

In centers without experience or access to microsurgical reconstruction, pedicled flaps play a fundamental role in head and neck reconstruction. However, they do have limitations, including unpredictable viability and limited mobility.

The submental artery island flap (SAIF) was initially described by Martin et al in 1993 for facial defect reconstruction as an alternative to free flaps due to its color, shape and texture.[7] Three years later, Sterne et al[8] described the use of the SAIF in oncological oral cavity reconstruction after ablative surgery, and over the last few years the SAIF has proven to be a reliable reconstructive option in head and neck surgery.[9] However, in the literature, some reports highlight the risk of reconstructing the oral cavity using the SAIF, due to the potential compromise of the neck nodal clearance.[10]

The submental artery has a constant vascular branch that arises from the facial artery. It courses forward and medially between the submandibular gland and the mylohyoid muscle. The artery usually travels either deep (70%) or superficial (30%) to the anterior belly of the digastric muscle, and finishes behind the mandibular symphysis.[11] Along its course, cutaneous perforators pierce the platysma and anterior belly of the digastric muscles to constitute the subdermal plexus forming extensive anastomoses with the contralateral artery. The submental vein drains into the facial vein, communicating with both the internal and external jugular veins.[12] [13] The SAIF has a long (8 cm) consistent and reliable pedicle, and cutaneous dimensions can reach up to 6 cm × 12 cm. Moreover, the SAIF can be used as a cutaneous, musculofascial (cervicofacial and platysma), or osteocutaneous flap, and the donor site defect can be primarily closed without functional or cosmetic deficit.[14]

The present study aims to share a two-center experience using the SAIF, and to describe the complications related to the use of the flap and also short-term oncological outcomes and recurrence rates during the follow-up of the included patients.


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Method

This was a retrospective study performed in two centers with the same surgical and reconstructive philosophy (Clínica Medilaser [CMN] and the Hospital Universitário Donostia [HUD]). Approval by the ethics committees of both hospitals was obtained. Patients diagnosed with stages I and II OSCC according to the criteria of the Union Internationale Contre le Cancer (UICC) and the American Joint Committee on Cancer (AJCC-7th edition), previously untreated, with clinical and radiologic N0 neck who were considered candidates for this kind of reconstructive surgery were included. The reason why the SAIF flap was chosen as an option to reconstruct the oral cavity after ablative surgery according to each center experience was highly selected availability for microsurgical free flap reconstruction (CMN) or due to the patient's comorbidities (CMN and HUD).

The surgical technique used was a standard SAIF previously described by other authors[15] ([Fig. 1]). Statistical analysis was conducted with SPSS for Macintosh Version 21.0 (IBM Corp., Armonk, NY, USA). Categorical data are presented as frequencies and percentages. Continuous data are presented as means and standard deviations [SD].

Zoom Image
Fig. 1 Oral tongue reconstruction after ablative surgery. (A) Oral Tongue after resection. (B) Submental Flap. (C) Submental flap in the recipient site.

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Results

A total of 14 patients requiring an OSCC ablative surgery, reconstructed with a SAIF between January 2016 and January 2018 were included. There were 11 (78.6%) male and 3 (21.4%) female patients with amean age of 66.7 14 (Min: 52/Max: 91) years old. Tumor sites involved were the tongue in 12 (85.7%) patients, the inferior lip in 1 (7.15%) patient, and the soft palate in 1 (7.15%) patient ([Fig. 2] and [3]). All of the patients underwent ipsilateral or bilateral selective neck dissection after flap harvest. A total of 2 (14.3%) patients had a postoperative flap complication, one of them suffered partial necrosis of the flap and another patient suffered total necrosis of the flap. The mean hospital stay was 8–11 days (Min: 6/Max: 23 days), and the mean follow-up was of 12 months. None of them developed a local or regional recurrence during the follow-up. A total of 12 patients were alive and 2 died during this period, one of them due to a heart attack and another due to an iliofemoral bypass rupture. In all cases, the marginal mandibular nerve was preserved. ([Table 1]).

Zoom Image
Fig. 2 Post-operative results after submental artery island flap reconstruction of the oral tongue. (A) right hemiglossectomy. (B) left partial glossectomy. (C) soft palate.
Zoom Image
Fig. 3 (A) Donor site (B) Lip Reconstruction.

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Discussion

The use of free flaps has been accepted as the primary option for reconstruction of soft or hard tissue defects in OSCC patients after ablative oncological surgery.[16] [17] However, a free flap is not recommended in patients with vessel-depleted operated or irradiated necks or patients with a high American Society of Anesthesiologists (ASA) risk score. Moreover, operative surgical time is longer compared with the submental flap, and consequently, hospital stay, costs and postoperative medical complications are usually higher.[11] [18] [19]

The use of pedicled myocutaneous flaps is another excellent surgical option, characterized by technical simplicity and good blood supply.[20] [21] However, the disadvantages of these flaps are the bulky volume, the requirement of secondary revisional surgeries and a higher rate of complications, especially in female patients.[22] [23]

The SAIF is based on the submental artery, a constant branch of the facial artery, which originates in the facial artery from the external carotid artery. This artery has 5 main branches along its course toward the midline and anastomoses in 92% of the cases with the contralateral artery.[24] It is located medially to the mandibular inferior border[25] and represents the main blood supply of the floor of the mouth in 60% of the cases.[26]

In our experience, the flap has a long pedicle, a wide arc of rotation, and it can cover a large surface area. Techniques to elongate the pedicle used and described are the additional dissection of the pedicle, Y-V procedure, the reverse flow flap, section of the facial vein and microvascular anastomosis. And their choice wants to be mainly conditioned by the site of the defect.[27] Qualitatively, this flap is an ideal substitute for oral cavity or facial region defects, given the similarity of texture and also the possibility of primary closure with minimal aesthetic morbidity.[28] The SAIF is a reliable alternative to microvascular free flaps, especially in older patients, or in those with severe comorbidities such as poor nutrition, aggressive medical conditions or other incurable diseases. These patients are not optimal candidates for a prolonged microvascular operation, and they require a nonaggressive treatment strategy with reduced surgical times, mainly when the reconstruction is limited to small or medium-size defects.[9] [29] [30]

The SAIF may be employed for several purposes, mainly as myocutaneous, but also as fasciocutaneous, osteocutaneous or cutaneous flap,[31] and it has been described for reconstruction of head and neck soft tissue defects of the lower, mid and upper region of the face (which may require division of the facial artery and vein). It has also been used for malar augmentation with fascia flap only,[29] [32] reconstruction of defects with hair-bearing skin,[33] tongue and/or floor of mouth defects, buccal mucosa defects, palatal defects,[34] nasal reconstruction,[35] lip reconstruction,[36] [37] [38] cervical esophagus repair or reconstruction,[39] [40] [41] hemilaryngectomy defects repair,[31] reconstruction of the neopharynx after total laryngectomy, repair of pharyngocutaneous fistulas[42] and coverage of hardware used in spine surgery.[43]

There is controversy in the literature about the oncological safety of the SAIF due to the relationship between the flap and lymph nodes of the Ib region, because these nodal levels might be involved even at an early stage of OSCC,[44] [45] and this can increase the risk of recurrence,[44] [46] [47] as well as hindering a rigorous cervical level I neck dissection.

Nevertheless, the literature is contradictory concerning this. Sebastian et al claim that the submental flap should be avoided if there is any suspicion of level I involvement.[9] Similarly, Vural et al have warned of the potential risk of this flap in patients with clinical or radiological evidence of level I cervical metastases.[31] However, Sittitrai et al suggested that the submental flap could be used safely in a patient with level I metastatic involvement if the patients are adequately selected.[14] Chow et al recommended that dissection in the subplatysmal plane would minimize the chances of tumor spread and inadequate clearance,[48] and Amin et al prescribed the complete lymph node dissection before flap harvesting and recommend that this flap should be avoided in those patients with clinically advanced nodal disease in the neck (> N0).[46] Taking into account the available evidence and given the different flaps available for oral reconstruction, the SAIF should be carefully indicated in patients with suspicion of level I involvement. However, it might constitute a useful weapon in the reconstruction of defects of traumatic origin.

The flap harvesting technique has been variable in the indexed literature. The inclusion of the anterior belly of the digastric muscle in the flap has been controversial. In our series, we have included the anterior belly of the digastric muscle to improve the blood supply. However, we must emphasize that the use of this flap is contraindicated in patients with a history of neck dissection because the integrity of the facial artery/vein is necessary.[49] Also, ultrasound color Doppler with facial artery/vein and skin perforators localization can reduce the failure rate of the flap.[50]

Regarding complications, one patient suffered partial necrosis, and another suffered total necrosis of the flap. No other complications, such as bleeding or systemic infection, were observed during the postoperative period.

The potential risk of injury to the marginal mandibular nerve during SAIF harvesting ranges from 0% to 17%.[24] [51] To reduce the risk of injury, Sterne et al recommend the identification of the nerve before raising the flap to avoid the damage.[8] In our series, no patient developed a temporary marginal mandibular nerve palsy. Finally, we should highlight the retrospective nature of the study, the short follow-up period and the reduced number of cases included as limitations of the present study, which might limit the validity of its results.


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Conclusion

The SAIF has shown promising results due to its versatility, wide arc of rotation, color match, and low donor site morbidity. Some controversies about the oncological safety of the procedure exist. However, it might constitute a useful weapon in head and neck reconstruction in well-selected patients.

Table 1

Demographic and clinical data

Age

Sex

Site

Stage

Complication

RT

Recurrence

Status

Case 1

80

female

Lip

pT2pN1M0

Partial Necrosis

Yes

No

Alive

Case 2

55

Male

Soft Palate

pT2pN0M0

None

No

No

Alive

Case 3

62

Male

Tongue

pT2pN1M0

None

Yes

No

Alive

Case 4

70

Male

Tongue

pT2pN0M0

None

No

No

Alive

Case 5

65

Male

Tongue

pT2pN0M0

None

No

No

Alive

Case 6

71

Male

Tongue

pT2pN1M0

None

Yes

No

Alive

Case 7

58

Male

Tongue

pT2pN1M0

None

Yes

No

Alive

Case 8

64

Male

Tongue

pT2pN0M0

None

No

No

Alive

Case 9

62

Female

Tongue

pT2pN0M0

None

No

No

Alive

Case 10

56

Female

Tongue

pT2pN1M0

None

No

No

Alive

Case 11

61

Male

Tongue

pT2pN1M0

None

Yes

No

Alive

Case 12

52

Male

Tongue

pT2pN1M0

None

Yes

No

Alive

Case 13

88

Male

Tongue

pT2pN0M0

None

No

No

Dead

Case 14

91

Male

Tongue

pT2pN0M0

Necrosis

No

No

Dead

Abbreviation: RT, radiation therapy.



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Conflict of Interests

The authors have no conflict of interests to declare.


Address for correspondence

Carlos Miguel Chiesa-Estomba, MD, MSc
Department of Otorhinolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery, Hospital Universitario Donostia
Calle Dr. Begiristain #1 CP: 20007, San Sebastian – Donosti, Guipuzkoa – Basque
España   

Publikationsverlauf

Eingereicht: 08. Oktober 2019

Angenommen: 30. Januar 2020

Publikationsdatum:
24. April 2020 (online)

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Zoom Image
Fig. 1 Oral tongue reconstruction after ablative surgery. (A) Oral Tongue after resection. (B) Submental Flap. (C) Submental flap in the recipient site.
Zoom Image
Fig. 2 Post-operative results after submental artery island flap reconstruction of the oral tongue. (A) right hemiglossectomy. (B) left partial glossectomy. (C) soft palate.
Zoom Image
Fig. 3 (A) Donor site (B) Lip Reconstruction.