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INTRODUCTION: Cleft palate is among the most common birth abnormalities. The success of primary surgery in the early months of life is crucial for successful feeding, speech, hearing, dental development and facial growth. Over recent decades, age at palatal surgery in infancy has reduced. This has led to palatal closure in one-stage procedures being carried out around the age of 12 months, but in some cases as early as 6 months. The primary objective of the Timing Of Primary Surgery for Cleft Palate (TOPS)trial is to determine whether surgery for cleft palate performed at 6 or 12 months of age is most beneficial for speech outcomes. METHODS AND ANALYSIS: Infants with a diagnosis of non-syndromic isolated cleft palate will be randomised to receive standardised primary surgery (Sommerlad technique) for closure of the cleft at either 6 months or 12 months, corrected for gestational age. The primary outcome will be perceived insufficient velopharyngeal function at 5 years of age. Secondary outcomes measured across 12 months, 3 years and 5 years will include growth, safety of the procedure, dentofacial development, speech, hearing level and middle ear function. Video and audio recordings of speech will be collected in a standardised age-appropriate manner and analysed independently by multiple speech and language therapists. The trial aims to recruit and follow-up 300 participants per arm. Data will be analysed according to the intention-to-treat principle using a 5% significance level. All analyses will be prespecified within a full and detailed statistical analysis plan. ETHICS AND DISSEMINATION: Ethical approval has been sought in each participating country according to country-specific procedures. Trial results will be presented at conferences, published in peer-reviewed journals and disseminated through relevant patient support groups. TRIAL REGISTRATION NUMBER: NCT00993551; Pre-results.

Original publication




Journal article


Bmj open

Publication Date





Sommerlad technique, palatal surgery, randomised clinical trial, syllable inventory, unilateral cleft palate, velopharyngeal function, Child Development, Child, Preschool, Cleft Palate, Humans, Infant, Internationality, Language Development, Multicenter Studies as Topic, Palate, Soft, Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic, Reconstructive Surgical Procedures, Speech, Speech Disorders, Time-to-Treatment, Treatment Outcome, Velopharyngeal Insufficiency, Voice Quality