Although the literature contains reports of the risks and complications of calvarial vault reconstruction for acquired defects, there are few publications addressing the specific patient population who require such reconstructions in cases preceded by prior infection, radiation, massive associated soft tissue trauma, and so on. We define such clinical presentations as a hostile environment for large surface area reconstruction. Our objective is to compare the safety and efficacy of autologous bone and alloplastic reconstruction in hostile cranial defects.
An institutional review board–approved retrospective review of patients who underwent cranioplasty of a hostile site at the University of Alabama at Birmingham between January 2008 and December 2018 was performed. The patients were stratified into 3 groups based on the type of implant used: autogenous (bone), alloplastic (polyetheretherketone [PEEK], titanium, polymethyl methacrylate), or mixed (combination of bone and prosthetic). The primary outcome metric was a complication in the year after cranioplasty, identified by implant failure, necrosis, or infection. Statistical analysis included t tests and χ2 tests where appropriate using SPSS.
There were 55 total cases in this period: 27 autogenous, 23 alloplastic, and 5 mixed. The purely autogenous group had the highest complication rate (44%), and the alloplastic group had the lowest complication rate (38%), which was not statistically different between the 3 groups (P = 0.121). When stratified by specific material used for reconstruction (27 bone, 14 PEEK, 10 titanium, and 5 polymethyl methacrylate), overall complication rate was statistically significant (P = 0.009, χ2 test), with PEEK implants having the lowest complication rate (21%).
This analysis interestingly found that in the setting of hostile cranial defects, cranioplasties would benefit from the use of prosthetic implants instead of autologous bone grafts, not only for avoidance of donor site morbidity but also for a decrease in overall complications.