: The radial forearm free flap was selected as a donor site in only 17 (11 percent) of 155 consecutive free flap mandible reconstructions performed over a 9-year period. It was used either as an osteocutaneous flap (58 percent), as a soft-tissue flap alone for coverage of a reconstruction plate (18 percent), to supplement another free flap (12 percent), or to salvage a previous reconstruction (12 percent). The most common underlying disease was epidermoid carcinoma (82 percent), the average patient age was 55 years, and the average length of follow-up was 13.5 months. Although there was one patient death, there were no anastomotic failures. Postoperatively, two patients experienced fracture at the donor site (12 percent), and three patients (18 percent) had hardware related problems such as exposure, infection, or both.
Although early studies advocated using the osteocutaneous radial forearm flap as a preferred method in mandible reconstruction, superior donor site options such as the fibula have now relegated it to a minor role. The best remaining indication for its use today is for a limited posterior bone defect associated with a large adjacent mucosal loss. Osseointegrated implant capability is not important in this setting, and the short bone length needed for this application minimizes the potential for fracture at the donor site, a serious complication. Otherwise, the osteocutaneous radial forearm flap is not recommended for the majority of segmental mandibular defects.
The radial forearm flap without bone continues to have an important supportive role in mandibular reconstruction. It is an excellent choice in this regard when used to cover a reconstruction plate, as a second free flap when soft-tissue requirements are exceptionally large, or for salvage of a previous mandible reconstruction.
(C)1997American Society of Plastic Surgeons