Radiosurgery for deep-seated cavernous malformations: a move toward more active, early intervention

J Neurosurg 113:691–699, 2010. DOI: 10.3171/2010.3.JNS091156

The role of radiosurgery in the treatment of cavernous malformations (CMs) remains controversial. It is frequently recommended only for inoperable lesions that have bled at least twice. Rehemorrhage can carry a substantial risk of morbidity, however. The authors reviewed their practice of treating deep-seated inoperable CMs to assess the complication rate of radiosurgery, the impact that radiosurgery might have on rebleeding, and whether a more active, earlier intervention is justified in managing this condition.

Methods. The authors performed a retrospective analysis of 113 patients with 79 brainstem and 39 thalamic/ basal ganglia CMs treated with Gamma Knife surgery. Lesions were stratified into 2 groups: those that might be lower risk with no more than 1 symptomatic bleed before radiosurgical treatment and those deemed high risk with multiple symptomatic hemorrhages before treatment.

Results. Forty-one CMs had multiple symptomatic hemorrhages before radiosurgery with a first-ever bleed rate of 2.9% per lesion per year, a rebleed rate of 30.5% per lesion per year, and a median time of 1.5 years between the first and second bleeds. In this group the rebleed rate decreased to 15% for the first 2 years after radiosurgery and declined further to 2.4% thereafter. Pretreatment multiple bleeds led to persistent deficits in 72% of the patients. Seventy-seven CMs had no more than 1 symptomatic bleed before radiosurgery, making for a lifetime bleed rate of 2.2% per lesion per year. The short period between the presenting bleed and treatment (median 1 year) makes the natural history in this group uncertain. The rate of hemorrhage in the first 2 years after treatment was 5.1%, and 1.3% thereafter. Pretreatment hemorrhages resulted in permanent deficits in 43% of the patients in this group, a rate significantly lower than in the multiple-bleeds group (p < 0.001). Posttreatment hemorrhages led to persistent deficits in only 7.3% of the patients. Permanent adverse radiation effects were rare (7.3%) and minor in both groups.

Conclusions. Stereotactic radiosurgery is a safe management strategy for CMs in eloquent sites with the marked advantage of reducing rebleed risks in patients with repeated pretreatment hemorrhages. The benefit in treating CMs with a single bleed is less clear. Note, however, that repeated hemorrhage carries a significant risk of increased morbidity far in excess of any radiosurgery-related morbidity, and the authors assert that this finding justifies the early active management of deep-seated CMs.

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