Radiation-related ulcers of the chest wall provide a great challenge to reconstructive surgeons because of the necessity of protecting the underlying vital structures and the difficulty in repairing irradiated tissues. To evaluate the efficacy of treatment, 24 patients who underwent reconstruction of radiation related ulcers of the chest wall were retrospectively reviewed. A variety of muscle and musculocutaneous flaps as well as omentum and microvascular tissue transfers were used to reconstruct these defects. The defects in the chest wall arose from spontaneous breakdown of irradiated tissue, tumor recurrence, or nonhealing after surgical procedures performed in the irradiated field. Our treatment protocol consisted of aggressive debridement of all affected tissues including skeletal tissues when necessary. The application of a tension free closure using a flap was then performed. Skeletal support was provided in three reconstructions. There were no mortalities, the morbidity rate was 29% (six minor, one major complication), and the mean hospital stay was 10.9 days. None of the patients required prolonged ventilator support. In all but 2 patients, who were left with small chronic granulating nonhealing wounds, complete wound healing was achieved. We conclude that chest wall reconstruction of radiation-related ulcers can be achieved with minimal morbidity in an acceptable period of inpatient hospital care using a variety of vascularized tissue transfers.
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