Our primary objective is to determine if the use of tumescence has a meaningful effect on STSG uptake at the recipient site. This is an important outcome because poor graft uptake results in the need for prolonged local wound care, additional clinic visits for patients and increased risk of infection. A prospective, randomized comparison of the tumescence to our current standard of care will allow us to definitively evaluate any benefits to this technique.
Tumescence is commonly used in the treatment of burn patients to minimize blood loss during both tangential excision of eschar and during harvest of split-thickness grafts for reconstruction. This is considered the standard of care in burn surgery as using tumescence has been clearly demonstrated to reduce intraoperative blood loss during harvest of large skin grafts and excision of large burns when compared with the application of topical epinephrine as was the historic standard practice.4-6 Tumescence also creates a firm and uniform surface from which to harvest the skin graft, which the investigators believe may improve the quality of harvest and rate of skin graft take.
The Role Of Tumescence In Split Thickness Skin Grafting For Reconstruction Of Head And Neck Cancer Resection
Multimodal treatment for head and neck cancer often includes surgical resection. Large tumors leave behind large anatomical defects when resected, which require reconstruction to rehabilitate form and function after ablative surgery. Two commonly used reconstructive options in reconstructive surgery are the radial forearm free flap and the fibula free flap. These in turn leave cutaneous defects at the donor site which must be reconstructed to protect the underlying soft tissues, muscles, and tendons exposed as a result of their harvest. This is effectively accomplished with a split thickness skin graft harvested from the thigh, which generally results in excellent coverage of the free flap donor site and minimal skin graft donor site morbidity. 1-3 Using a free flap for reconstruction following surgical tumor ablation often leaves behind a donor site that cannot be closed primarily and at our institution these defects are reconstructed using split-thickness skin grafts (STSG) harvested from the thigh. This creates an additional wound that must be carefully monitored, as poor skin graft take or failure can result in exposed muscle or tendon at the donor site. While many of these wound-healing complications can be treated with simple dressings, this can create added stress, another site of potential infection, and delayed healing and return to function.1-3 Tumescence of the skin graft harvest site involves a deep dermal infiltration of normal saline with epinephrine to the thigh prior to skin graft harvest. This has been demonstrated to minimize intraoperative blood loss4-6 and is routinely utilized in burn surgery where extensive skin grafting is often required.
The effect of tumescence on skin graft quality and take has not been evaluated. Anecdotally, it is our impression that this procedure may yield a lower graft failure rate thereby decreasing post-operative extremity immobility, risk of infection and wound care requirements.2 In this study, the investigators plan to compare the quality and take of split thickness skin grafts harvested with and without tumescence. Our results will have important implications for how split thickness skin grafting is performed in head and neck reconstructive surgery.