New Guideline Provides Recommendations on Reconstruction After Skin Cancer Resection

Neil Osterweil

May 13, 2021

You've successfully resected a skin cancer lesion, leaving clear margins. Now what?

That's the question the authors of an evidence-based guideline on reconstruction after skin cancer resection set out to answer.

The guideline – a joint effort of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, American Society for Dermatologic Surgery, American Academy of Dermatology, American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, American Academy of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery Foundation, American College of Mohs Surgery, American Society for Mohs Surgery, and American Society of Ophthalmic Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery – was published online in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology.

From the outset, the panel members realized that to keep the guideline manageable they had to limit recommendations to the practice of reconstruction defined as "cutaneous closure that requires a flap, graft, or tissue rearrangement."

Other wound closure methods, such as secondary intention healing; simple closures; and complex closures that do not involve flaps, grafts, muscle, or bone, were not covered in the recommendations.

As with similar guidelines, the developers selected seven clinical questions to be addressed, and attempted to find consensus through literature searches, appraisal of the evidence, grading of recommendations, peer review, and public comment.

"We had a very heterogeneous set of things that we were trying to comment on, so we had to keep things somewhat generic," lead author Andrew Chen, MD, chief of the division of plastic surgery, at the University of Connecticut Health Center, Farmington, said in an interview.

"Skin cancer and reconstruction affect different body areas and areas of different sizes. When we were creating the guidelines, we had to tailor the questions we could ask based on things that would make sense to answer, because obviously we couldn't ask a question such as: 'What's better, a skin graft or a flap?' Well, there are some things you can't put a skin graft on – it won't last, so we couldn't ask that kind of question," Chen said.

Curtis Cetrulo, MD, a plastic and reconstructive surgeon at Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, who was not involved in the guideline process, said in an interview that the broad recommendations are in keeping with his practice and experience. He also acknowledged, however, the difficulty in creating a guideline that covers the complexity and heterogeneity of reconstructive surgery.

"These are generally good recommendations, but they're recommendations only, with generally weak levels of evidence. What we really need are clinical trials that can give us definitive answers to some of these questions," he said.


The seven key recommendations, based on the clinical questions raised, are summarized below:

  • Delayed (asynchronous) reconstruction is acceptable. Although the quality of the evidence is low and the recommendations are listed as an option, the guideline authors said that depending on the situation, reconstruction can be performed either immediately after resection or delayed by days, weeks, "or even months."

  • Systemic antibiotics should not be routinely prescribed in the interim between resection and reconstruction in adults. Here too, the evidence is low and the recommendation strength is weak, but in "the absence of data showing convincing benefits, systemic antibiotic therapy does not appear necessary or desirable in most cases when there is an interval between cancer resection and reconstruction," the work group wrote.

  • Clinicians may administer perioperative systemic antibiotics in a facility-based setting for adults undergoing reconstruction (3a), but antibiotics should not be routinely prescribed in an office-based setting (3b). The rationale for these recommendations, supported by a moderate level of evidence, is that the risk of surgical-site infection is generally higher in facilities, compared with an office-based setting. Patients who undergo reconstruction in hospitals or surgical centers are more likely to have complex reconstructions or have risks that may make them suitable candidates for antibiotics, but patients in office-based setting may often be spared from the additional costs, side effects, and possible drug interactions from antibiotic use. "There is no evidence in either setting that long-term antibiotic prophylaxis provides infection risk reduction, compared with short-term prophylaxis," the guideline working group wrote.

  • Continue anticoagulant, antithrombotic, and antiplatelet medications for adult patients undergoing reconstruction after skin cancer resection in the office-based setting (4a), and in the facility-based setting should coordinate with the physician managing anticoagulation before modifying the medication prior to surgery (4b). Evidence quality and recommendation strength are both moderate.

  • The guideline authors recommend against routine prescription of narcotics as first-line treatment for pain in adults undergoing skin reconstruction (5a), favoring instead acetaminophen and NSAIDs as first-line therapy (5b). Evidence quality and recommendation strength are both moderate.

  • In the absence of standardized protocols for the management of pain medications, oral antibiotics, and/or anticoagulants in the perioperative period, clinicians should discuss possible approaches with adult patients. "Educating patients about their perioperative treatment through discussion of treatment strategies may help alleviate anxiety, improve communication, increase patient satisfaction, and maximize patient compliance with the postoperative orders," the guideline authors wrote.

  • The authors suggest that adult patients may be offered follow-up assessments to discuss functional and cosmetic outcomes. "The return of the patient for follow-up visits is an excellent opportunity to better understand and measure these outcomes, improve patient-physician communication, and foster quality improvement. Postoperative follow-up can lead to increased communication between the patient and physician, thereby empowering patients to comment on satisfaction and other important outcomes measures," they wrote.

What's Next

The guideline developers acknowledged that data are limited regarding reconstructive surgery following skin cancer resection, and that higher-quality studies would help to improve future guidelines. Chen said that greater use of prospective surgical databases and more systematic collection of patient-reported outcomes could inform further efforts.

The guideline development process was supported by the various groups represented. Chen and Cetrulo reported no relevant disclosures.

This article originally appeared on, part of the Medscape Professional Network.


Comments on Medscape are moderated and should be professional in tone and on topic. You must declare any conflicts of interest related to your comments and responses. Please see our Commenting Guide for further information. We reserve the right to remove posts at our sole discretion.