Thirteen patients who had undergone ablative surgery for advanced squamous cell carcinoma in which more than half of the tongue had been resected underwent reconstruction in which the cutaneous nerve of a free flap was anastomosed to the stump of the transected lingual nerve. Eight of the patients underwent reconstruction with an innervated anterolateral thigh flap and five patients underwent reconstruction with an innervated rectus abdominis musculocutaneous flap. Sensory recovery of the flap at least 6 months postoperatively was compared in these 13 patients and in 16 additional patients who received noninnervated versions of the same flaps for the same defect. The degree of sensory recovery of innervated thigh flaps was significantly greater than that of noninnervated ones in all modalities and that of innervated rectus abdominis flaps was also greater than that of noninnervated flaps, except for hot and cold perception. These results indicate that sensory regrowth occurs in most areas through the surgically created pathways. However, results of Semmes-Weinstein testing showed that recovery did not reach the level of protective sensation in either type of innervated flap. Although these findings must be followed by additional objective and functional tests and the need for sensory reeducation should be considered, this simple operative procedure can improve postoperative intraoral function and should be attempted whenever possible after ablative surgery.
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