The endoscopic endonasal approach (EEA) to the lower clivus and craniovertebral junction (CVJ) has been traditionally performed via resection of the nasopharyngeal soft tissues. Alternatively, an inferiorly based rhinopharyngeal (RP) flap (RPF) can be dissected to help reconstruct the postoperative defect and separate it from the oropharynx. To date, there is no evidence regarding the viability and potential clinical impact of the RPF. The aim of this study was to assess RPF viability and its impact on clinical outcome.
A retrospective cohort of 60 patients who underwent EEA to the lower clivus and CVJ was studied. The RPF was used in 30 patients (RPF group), and the nasopharyngeal soft tissues were resected in 30 patients (control group).
Chordoma was the most common surgical indication in both groups (47% in the RPF group vs 63% in the control group, p = 0.313), followed by odontoid pannus (20% in the RPF group vs 10%, p = 0.313). The two groups did not significantly differ in terms of extent of tumor (p = 0.271), intraoperative CSF leak (p = 0.438), and skull base reconstruction techniques other than the RPF (nasoseptal flap, p = 0.301; fascia lata, p = 0.791; inlay graft, p = 0.793; and prophylactic lumbar drain, p = 0.781). Postoperative soft-tissue enhancement covering the lower clivus and CVJ observed on MRI was significantly higher in the RPF group (100% vs 26%, p < 0.001). The RPF group had a significantly lower rate of nasoseptal flap necrosis (3% vs 20%, p = 0.044) and surgical site infection (3% vs 27%, p = 0.026) while having similar rates of postoperative CSF leakage (17% in the RPF group vs 20%, p = 0.739) and meningitis (7% in the RPF group vs 17%, p = 0.424). Oropharyngeal bacterial flora dominated the infections in the control group but not those in the RPF group, suggesting that the RPF acted as a barrier between the nasopharynx and oropharynx.
The RPF provides viable vascularized tissue coverage to the lower clivus and CVJ. Its use was associated with decreased rates of nasoseptal flap necrosis and local infection, likely due to separation from the oropharynx.