When patients are diagnosed with head and neck tumors, the surgical removal of those tumors in the mouth and the throat can leave significant wounds that need to be restored and/or covered. If this is the case, a “free flap” may be used to repair the defect.
A free flap is a piece of tissue that is taken from one part of the body and moved to the area of the head and neck that has been affected by the tumor and its removal.
Your BSSNY neurosurgeon will select tissue from your body s/he believes will do the best job of restoring the function and appearance of the head and neck tissues that were destroyed by the tumor. The most commonly used free flaps include forearm or thigh skin (thin skin that can be used to rebuild the inside of the mouth and throat), muscles from the abdomen or the back, and fibula bone (bone on the outer side of the leg). The artery that comes with the flap is sewn to the artery in the neck to bring the blood in, and the vein is sutured to a vein in the neck, re-establishing the blood flow. The blood vessels feeding the flap are usually very small and the “re-plugging” of the flap is done through microvascular surgery.
The goal of your neurosurgeon is to restore you to where you can enjoy eating, swallowing, and speaking.