Enhancing the outcome of free latissimus dorsi muscle flap reconstruction of scalp defects

Joan E. Lipa, Charles E. Butler

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

49 Scopus citations


Background. Reconstruction of scalp and calvarial defects after tumor ablation frequently requires prosthetic cranioplasty and cutaneous coverage. Furthermore, patients often have advanced disease and receive perioperative radiotherapy. We evaluated the complications of scalp reconstruction with a free latissimus dorsi muscle flap in this setting. Methods. The complications and the oncologic and aesthetic outcomes of six consecutive scalp reconstructions with a free latissimus dorsi muscle flap and skin graft in five patients with advanced cancer were retrospectively evaluated. Patient, tumor, defect, reconstructive, and other treatment characteristics were reviewed. Reconstructive and perioperative techniques intended to improve flap survival and aesthetic outcome and reduce complications in these patients. Results. All patients (52-76 years old) had recurrent tumors (sarcoma, melanoma, or squamous cell carcinoma) and received postoperative radiotherapy. The mean scalp defect size was 367 cm2, and partial-thickness or full-thickness calvarial resection was required in all six cases. No vein grafts were needed. The mean follow-up period and disease-free survival time were 18 and 13 months, respectively. Three patients died of their disease, and two survived disease free. There were no flap failures or dehiscences. Complications consisted of donor site seroma in two patients; partial skin graft loss in one patient; and radiation burns to the flap, face, and ears in one patient. Scalp contour and aesthetic outcome were very good in all cases except for the one case with radiation burns. Conclusions. Good outcomes were achieved using a free latissimus dorsi muscle flap with a skin graft for flap reconstruction in elderly patients with advanced recurrent cancers who received perioperative radiotherapy. Several technical aspects of the reconstruction technique intended to enhance the functional and aesthetic outcome and/or reduce complications were believed to have contributed to the good results.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)46-53
Number of pages8
JournalHead and Neck
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2004


  • Calvarium
  • Latissimus dorsi muscle
  • Microsurgery
  • Sarcoma
  • Scalp
  • Skin graft
  • Squamous cell carcinoma
  • Surgical flaps

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Otorhinolaryngology


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