We reviewed 109 consecutive patients with cancer of the hypopharynx or cervical oesophagus who underwent free flap transfer for immediate reconstruction after total pharyngolaryngo-oesophagectomy. The free flaps used were either free jejunal (n = 70) or radial forearm flaps (n = 39). Significantly more fistulas (3/70 compared with 15/39, p < 0.0001) and strictures (6/64 compared with 13/33, p = 0.0008) developed in the radial forearm than the jejunal flap group. However, functional donor site morbidity was minimal and there were no cases of total flap necrosis in the forearm flap group. We consider that the free jejunal flap should be the first choice for total reconstruction of pharyngo-oesophageal defects. However, the forearm flap is suitable for elderly, high risk patients, because it is less invasive and has minimal donor site morbidity, which facilitates early recovery.
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