Natural history of brainstem cavernous malformations

J Neurosurg 134:917–928, 2021

Given the paucity of data on the natural history of brainstem cavernous malformations (CMs), the authors aimed to evaluate the annual hemorrhage rate and hemorrhagic risk of brainstem CMs.

METHODS Nine hundred seventy-nine patients diagnosed with brainstem CMs were referred to Beijing Tiantan Hospital from 2006 to 2015; 224 patients were excluded according to exclusion criteria, and 47 patients were lost to follow-up. Thus, this prospective observational cohort included 708 cases (324 females). All patients were registered, clinical data were recorded, and follow-up was completed.

RESULTS Six hundred ninety (97.5%) of the 708 patients had a prior hemorrhage, 514 (72.6%) had hemorrhagic presentation, and developmental venous anomaly (DVA) was observed in 241 cases (34.0%). Two hundred thirty-seven prospective hemorrhages occurred in 175 patients (24.7%) during 3400.2 total patient-years, yielding a prospective annual hemorrhage rate of 7.0% (95% CI 6.2%–7.9%), which decreased to 4.7% after the 1st year. Multivariate Cox regression analysis after adjusting for sex and age identified hemorrhagic presentation (HR 1.574, p = 0.022), DVA (HR 1.678, p = 0.001), mRS score ≥ 2 on admission (HR 1.379, p = 0.044), lesion size > 1.5 cm (HR 1.458, p = 0.026), crossing the axial midpoint (HR 1.446, p = 0.029), and superficially seated location (HR 1.307, p = 0.025) as independent adverse factors for prospective hemorrhage, but history of prior hemorrhage was not significant. The annual hemorrhage rates were 8.3% and 4.3% in patients with and without hemorrhagic presentation, respectively; the rate was 9.9%, 6.0%, and 1.0% in patients with ≥ 2, only 1, and 0 prior hemorrhages, respectively; and the rate was 9.2% in patients with both hemorrhagic presentation and focal neurological deficit on admission.

CONCLUSIONS The study reported an annual hemorrhage rate of 7.0% exclusively for brainstem CMs, which significantly increased if patients presented with both hemorrhagic presentation and focal neurological deficit (9.2%), or any other risk factor. Patients with a risk factor for hemorrhage needed close follow-up regardless of the number of prior hemorrhages. It should be noted that the referral bias in this study could have overestimated the annual hemorrhage rate. This study improved the understanding of the natural history of brainstem CMs, and the results are important for helping patients and physicians choose a suitable treatment option based on the risk factors and stratified annual rates. Clinical trial registration no.: ChiCTR-POC-17011575 (http://www.chictr.org.cn/).