The quiet revolution: retractorless surgery for complex vascular and skull base lesions

J Neurosurg 116:291–300, 2012. DOI: 10.3171/2011.8.JNS101896

Smaller operative exposures, endoscopic approaches, and minimally invasive neurosurgery have emerged as a dominant trend in the modern era. In keeping with this evolution, the authors have recently eliminated the use of fixed retractors, instead employing dynamic retraction, with the use of handheld instruments. In the present study, the authors report the results of applying this strategy to challenging vascular and skull base lesions.

Methods. This 6-month study prospectively analyzed the use of retractorless surgery in a consecutive series of 223 patients with intracranial vascular or skull base lesions undergoing craniotomy. A single surgeon performed all operations.

Results. The microsurgical approaches (in descending order of frequency) included an orbitozygomatic craniotomy (77 patients [35%]), frontal (36 patients [16%]), retrosigmoid (27 patients [12%]), interhemispheric (16 patients [7%]), and lateral supracerebellar (15 patients [7%]). The most common lesions were aneurysms (83 lesions overall [37%]), 18 of which required a bypass. Of 159 vascular lesions, there were also 46 cavernous malformations (29%). Meningiomas were the most common skull base tumors (37 cases [58%]). Of the 223 patients, 7 cases of various vascular and skull base lesions required fixed retraction. Therefore, 97% of the cases were successfully treated without a self-retaining retractor system.

Conclusions. Fixed retraction can be supplanted by dynamic retraction with surgical instruments, limiting the risk of retractor-induced tissue edema and injury. This quiet revolution has precipitated a major change in surgical techniques. Extensive dissection of arachnoidal planes, careful placement of the handheld suction device, patient positioning that enhances gravity retraction, the refinement of microsurgical instrumentation, and appropriate selection of the operative corridor all serve to obviate the need for fixed retraction in most intracranial procedures. Retractorless neurosurgery is an achievable goal, even when complex lesions of the vasculature and skull base are being treated.