In head and neck surgery cases where skin is severely scarred or adhered to surrounding tissue, reconstruction can be difficult to perform using microsurgical tissue or conventional pedicled pectoralis major myocutaneous flap (PMMF) transfer given the risks, which include damage to major vessels when manipulating scarred skin. For such cases, we perform a 2-stage external PMMF transfer, whereby the PMMF is directly sutured to the defect over the neck skin (without manipulation the hardened skin), and the flap division is then performed secondarily.
A total of 30 patients who had histories of radiotherapy (60–70 Gy) and prior neck dissection received the 2-stage external PMMF transfer procedure. Indications for the flaps included pharyngeal fistula closure in 12 patients, reconstruction for mandibular necrosis after radiotherapy in 8 patients, salvage surgery for partial or total necrosis of the free flap in 4 patients, and simultaneous reconstruction after tumor excision in 6 patients. Two patients underwent a second external PMMF transfer from the contralateral side because of postoperative complications, yielding a total of 32 flap transfers.
Twenty-nine flaps showed complete flap survival, whereas 3 had partial necrosis. Other complications, despite complete flap survival, included large fistulas requiring additional surgery for fistula closure (1 patient) and small fistulas that were closed without requiring reoperation (7 patients).
External PMMF transfer offers a safe, simple, and effective option in cases where free flap surgery is considered difficult or the risks associated with neck manipulation are high.