A Retrospective Cohort and Systematic Review of Non-Operative Management of Exposed Calvaria Post-Radiotherapy Journal Articles uri icon

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  • Scalp defects with exposed calvaria that have previously been irradiated present a unique reconstructive challenge. Patients with previously radiated scalp defects often have few reconstructive options due to poor health or personal choice. The aim of this study was to evaluate the results of non-operative management for patients with prior radiotherapy to the scalp who developed exposed calvaria. The outcomes of interest were major and minor complications related to exposed calvaria with a time frame of follow-up of greater than one year or death from any cause. A retrospective chart review was performed to identify patients with prior radiotherapy and surgery for skin cancer to the scalp who subsequently developed exposed calvaria. Data from four surgeons from 2008 to 2019 was collected. Next, a systematic review of PubMed, EMBASE, Cochrane Library, and CINAHL was conducted to identify articles in which non-operative management was utilized for exposed calvaria post-radiotherapy. Nineteen patients were identified who received radiotherapy either before developing recurrent malignancy requiring operation or requiring radiation postoperatively because of close or involved margins and who subsequently developed exposed calvaria. Six of these patients had an additional attempt at local flap or skin grafting that failed. All patients had an American Society of Anesthesiologists score of three or four. All were managed with local wound care. Ten patients had near-complete healing with wound care alone. Eight patients are still alive from one to six years after the presentation. One patient, who remains alive, developed an intracranial abscess requiring long-term antibiotics but was medically compromised by concomitant myelodysplastic syndrome, mantle cell lymphoma on chemotherapy, atrial fibrillation on anticoagulation, and heart failure. Three patients developed new malignancies requiring re-operation with watchful waiting. Two of the three cases resulted in failure to control disease, but control of malignancy occurred in one case with resection of recurrent cancer and exposed bone.  The systematic review of the literature yielded three studies that met the inclusion criteria. None of the studies encountered cases of meningitis, encephalitis, or death due to the non-operative treatment of exposed calvaria post radiation. Coverage of the calvaria with well-vascularized tissue is the reconstructive goal in the majority of circumstances. This case series and systematic review found that non-operative management of exposed calvaria post-radiotherapy can be an option for patients who are either not candidates for aggressive surgical treatment or who refuse surgery.


  • Patel, Pinkal
  • Young, James Edward Massey
  • McRae, Mark
  • Santos, Jenny
  • Levis, Carolyn
  • Gupta, Michael K
  • Voineskos, Sophocles
  • Gallo, Lucas
  • Dunn, Emily
  • McRae, Matthew C

publication date

  • June 21, 2020

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