Management of the brachial plexus in head and neck cancer

M. Matthijs Fockens*, Jeroen T. Kraak, C. René Leemans, Simone E. J. Eerenstein*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articleAcademicpeer-review


Purpose of reviewThe brachial plexus is an important anatomical structure that is regularly encountered by head and neck surgeons and radiation oncologists. Surgical or radiation-induced brachial plexus injury have great impact on arm function and quality of life. Anatomical variations and management of the brachial plexus in head and neck cancer treatment are discussed.Recent findingsThe brachial plexus consists of spinal roots from C5-C8 and T1. The most prevalent anatomical variations in brachial plexus anatomy include the prefixed brachial plexus (additional contribution from C4) in 11%, the roots of C5 and C6 piercing the belly of the anterior scalene muscle in 6.8%, and presence of the scalenus minimus muscle in 4.1-46%. Due to its location, the brachial plexus is at risk of inadvertent division or neuropraxia during surgical procedures such as neck dissection or robot-assisted transaxillary thyroid surgery (RATS). In case of inadvertent division, nerve reconstruction surgery is warranted and may lead to improved function. The risk of radiation-induced brachial plexus injury is dose-dependent and occurs in approximately 12-22%. Currently, no successful treatment options exist for radiation-induced injury.SummaryKnowledge of anatomical variations is important for head and neck surgeons to minimize the risk of brachial plexus injury. Limiting radiation therapy dose to the brachial plexus is desirable to decrease the risk of brachial plexus injury.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)105-110
Number of pages6
JournalCurrent Opinion in Otolaryngology and Head and Neck Surgery
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2023

Cite this