The learning curve for cavernous sinus surgery illustrated by symptomatic intracavernous aneurysm clipping through a pretemporal transcavernous approach

J Neurosurg 140:183–193, 2024

OBJECTIVE The anatomy of the cavernous sinus (CS) has been well studied in the laboratory for decades; however, performing surgery in and around the CS is still a challenge. To reveal the learning curve for CS surgery via the pretemporal transcavernous approach (PTTC), surgical procedures were examined. The authors proposed 4 levels of surgical difficulty in opening the walls of the CS through this approach. Details of the approach were illustrated by surgical videos of symptomatic intracavernous aneurysm clipping.

METHODS Four levels of surgical difficulty were proposed. The higher the level, the more the CS walls were opened. Pathologies corresponding to each level of difficulty in and around the CS were categorized in each level together with explanations. From 2015 to 2021, 5 patients with symptomatic intracavernous aneurysms (diplopia due to compressive cranial neuropathy) underwent the PTTC at the authors’ institute and served as representative cases in opening the walls of the CS. All CS cases from 2009 to 2021 were reviewed and categorized to demonstrate the learning curve.

RESULTS Four levels of surgical difficulty are as follows: level 1, a basic Dolenc extradural approach, which involves opening the anterior third of the superior and lateral walls of the CS; level 2, mobilizing the internal carotid artery (ICA) and opening the proximal dural ring to enter the roof of the CS and treat lesions around the clinoid and upper cavernous ICA; level 3, opening the entire aspect of the superior and lateral walls of the CS, which involves opening the oculomotor triangle and peeling the lateral wall of the CS to the tentorial incisura; and level 4, mobilizing cranial nerves III, IV, and V1 to gain access to the supra-/infratrochlear triangles to have proximal ICA control and opening the posterior wall as the last step to enter the posterior fossa. Surgical steps were described and illustrated with surgical videos of symptomatic intracavernous aneurysm clipping.

CONCLUSIONS The learning curve for CS surgery is long. The authors use 4 levels of surgical difficulty to describe applications of the PTTC in CS surgery. This approach serves as an effective workhorse in treating CS pathologies with low morbidity and high success rates when performed by experienced neurosurgeons.