Are tie-over bolster dressings necessary for healing or success of full thickness skin graft reconstruction following facial skin cancer excision?


      Skin grafts are commonly used for reconstruction of defects following excision of facial skin cancers. Tie-over bolster dressings are routinely placed to secure these grafts, but are they necessary for healing or graft success? A total of 96 patients was treated from 2013-2019 who underwent full thickness skin graft (FTSG) reconstruction following facial skin cancer excision were retrospectively analysed. All patients were treated by one consultant with non-fenestrated FTSG’s placed on defects varying from 10 to 55mm in maximum diameter. Grafts were sutured circumferentially with a continuous resorbable suture. Tie-over bolster dressings were not used, and the recipient site was dressed with MepitelTM and SteristripsTM. Primary defect sites where we used this technique included the pinna, the nose and face, and less commonly, the scalp. Graft harvest sites included the neck, pre-auricular, and submental regions. Complete graft take was noted in 94/96 patients. Partial graft failure was observed in two patients, one who healed and had successful late scar revision surgery and one who was managed conservatively and healed well. Two further patients with complete graft healing later underwent minimal revisional contour surgery with satisfactory results. This retrospective study has shown FTSG success in cutaneous defects of the head and neck to be excellent without the use of tie-over bolsters. This has significant benefits of saving operative time, reducing cost, and sparing the patient both unnecessary intraoperative steps, and the inconvenience of a bolster with its often-painful removal. We recommend that the use of tie-over bolsters in the management of most FTSG reconstructed head and neck cutaneous defects be considered an unnecessary step. We believe there are no adverse effects of our described simple technique, and that there are significant benefits to the patient.


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