Outcomes of Vacuum-Assisted Therapy in the Treatment of Head and Neck Wounds.

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Department of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, Wake Forest University School of Medicine, Winston-Salem †Division of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, University of North Carolina School of Medicine, Chapel Hill, NC.


Introduction:Head and neck wounds can present a reconstructive challenge for the plastic surgeon. Whether from skin cancer, trauma, or burns, there are many different treatment modalities used to dress and manage complex head and neck wounds. Vacuum-assisted closure (VAC) therapy has been used on wounds of nearly every aspect of the body but not routinely in the head and neck area. This study was conducted to demonstrate our results using the VAC in the treatment of complex head and neck wounds.

Methods:This is an IRB-approved, retrospective review of 69 patients with 73 head and neck wounds that were managed using the VAC between 1999 and 2008. The wound mechanism, location, and size, length of VAC therapy, patient comorbidities, use of radiation, complications, and ultimate outcome were assessed. In this patient population, the VAC was utilized because the standard reconstructive ladder was not a good option or had previously failed.

Results:Sixty-nine patients with complex head and neck wounds were treated with the wound VAC. The mean age of the patients was 66 years, with a range of 5-96 years. Males outnumbered females in this study nearly 2:1. Eighty-six percent of patients had wounds secondary to cancer, 8% secondary to trauma, 3% secondary to infection, and 3% secondary to burns. The VAC was used as a dressing over skin grafts in 50%, over Integra in 21%, and over open debrided wounds in 29%. Wounds healed without complication in 44% of the skin grafts, 67% of Integra-covered wounds, and 71% of debrided wounds. Minor complications included failure of complete graft take, failure of granulation tissue formation in open debrided wounds, infection, and hematoma formation under skin grafts. Major complications included positive cancer margins requiring reexcision and death secondary to pulmonary embolism, sepsis, and metastatic cancer. Most complications resolved with dressing changes, repeat grafting, or the administration of antibiotics.

Conclusion:Our results demonstrate that the wound VAC provides a reliable, effective, and durable dressing for a multitude of complex head and neck wounds. Additionally, it is a valuable tool when traditional surgical procedures are not a viable option.

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