Advances in facial nerve management in the head and neck cancer patient

Head and Neck Cancer

Crawford KL, et al. Curr Opin Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg 2020.


PURPOSE OF REVIEW: The purpose of this review is to summarize best practices in facial nerve management for patients with head and neck cancer. In addition, we provide a review of recent literature on novel innovations and techniques in facial reanimation surgery.

RECENT FINDINGS: Although recommended when tumor ablation surgery requires facial nerve sacrifice, facial reanimation procedures are not always performed. Concurrent dynamic facial reanimation with masseteric nerve transfers and cable graft repair can preserve native facial muscle function. Static suspension can provide facial support and immediate resting symmetry for patients. Eyelid weight and eye care should not be delayed, particularly in patients with trigeminal sensory deficits. Choice of neural source to innervate a gracilis-free muscle transfer for smile reanimation remains controversial; however, new techniques, such as dual innervation and multivector muscle transfer, may improve aesthetic and functional outcomes.

SUMMARY: Management of the facial nerve in the setting of head and neck cancer presents unique challenges. When possible, simultaneous oncologic resection and facial reanimation is ideal given the open surgical field, newly dissected and electrically stimulatable facial nerve branches, as well as minimizing postoperative healing time to prevent postsurgical treatment delays. A coordinated approach to facial nerve management with a multidisciplinary surgical team may help provide optimal, comprehensive care.