Surgical approaches to brainstem cavernous malformations

Neurosurg Focus 29 (3):E8, 2010. DOI: 10.3171/2010.6.FOCUS10128

Brainstem cavernous malformations (CMs) are low-flow vascular lesions in eloquent locations. Their presentation is often marked with symptomatic hemorrhages that appear to occur more frequently than hemorrhage from supratentorial cavernomas.

Brainstem CMs can be removed using 1 of the 5 standard skull-base approaches: retrosigmoid, suboccipital (with or without telovelar approach), supracerebellar infratentorial, orbitozygomatic, and far lateral.

Patients being referred to a tertiary institution often have lesions that are aggressive with respect to bleeding rates. Nonetheless, the indications for surgery, in the authors’ opinion, are the same for all lesions: those that are symptomatic, those that cause mass effect, or those that abut a pial surface. Patients often have relapsing and remitting courses of symptoms, with each hemorrhage causing a progressive and stepwise decline.

Many patients experience new postoperative deficits, most of which are transient and resolve fully. Despite the risks associated with operating in this highly eloquent tissue, most patients have had favorable outcomes in the authors’ experience. Surgical treatment of brainstem CMs protects patients from the potentially devastating effects of rehemorrhage, and the authors believe that the benefits of intervention outweigh the risks in patients with the appropriate indications.