Reconstruction of the mobile spine following total en bloc spondylectomy (TES) of one or multiple vertebral bodies in patients with malignant spinal tumors is a challenging procedure with high failure rates. A common reason for reconstructive failure is nonunion, which becomes more problematic when using local radiation therapy. Radiotherapy is an integral part of the management of primary malignant osseous tumors in the spine. Vascularized grafts may help prevent nonunion in the radiotherapy setting. The authors have utilized free vascularized fibular grafts (FVFGs) for reconstruction of the spine following TES. The purpose of this article is to describe the surgical technique for vascularized reconstruction of defects after TES. Additionally, the outcomes of consecutive cases treated with this technique are reported.
Thirty-nine patients were treated at the authors’ tertiary care institution for malignant tumors in the mobile spine using FVFG following TES between 2010 and 2018. Postoperative union, reoperations, complications, neurological outcome, and survival were reported. The median follow-up duration was 50 months (range 14–109 months).
The cohort consisted of 26 males (67%), and the median age was 58 years. Chordoma was the most prevalent tumor (67%), and the lumbar spine was most affected (46%). Complete union was seen in 26 patients (76%), the overall complication rate was 54%, and implant failure was the most common complication, with 13 patients (33%) affected. In 18 patients (46%), one or more reoperations were needed, and the fixation was surgically revised 15 times (42% of reoperations) in 10 patients (26%). A reconstruction below the L1 vertebra had a higher proportion of implant failure (67%; 8 of 12 patients) compared with higher resections (21%; 5 of 24 patients) (p = 0.011). Graft length, number of resected vertebrae, and docking the FVFG on the endplate or cancellous bone was not associated with union or implant failure on univariate analysis.
The FVFG is an effective reconstruction technique, particularly in the cervicothoracic spine. However, high implant failure rates in the lumbar spine have been seen, which occurred even in cases in which the graft completely healed. Methods to increase the weight-bearing capacity of the graft in the lumbar spine should be considered in these reconstructions. Overall, the rates of failure and revision surgery for FVFG compare with previous reports on reconstruction after TES.