A comprehensive analysis of hearing preservation after radiosurgery for vestibular schwannoma

Clinical article

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Gamma Knife surgery (GKS) has evolved into a practical alternative to open microsurgical resection in the treatment of patients with vestibular schwannoma (VS). Hearing preservation rates in GKS series suggest very favorable outcomes without the possible acute morbidity associated with open microsurgery. To mitigate institutional and practitioner bias, the authors performed an analytical review of the published literature on the GKS treatment of vestibular schwannoma patients. Their aim was to objectively characterize the prognostic factors that contribute to hearing preservation after GKS, as well as methodically summarize the reported literature describing hearing preservation after GKS for VS.


A comprehensive search of the English-language literature revealed a total of 254 published studies reporting assessable and quantifiable outcome data obtained in patients who underwent radiosurgery for VSs. Inclusion criteria for articles were 4-fold: 1) hearing preservation rates reported specifically for VS; 2) hearing status reported using the American Association of Otolaryngology–Head and Neck Surgery (AAO-HNS) or Gardner-Robertson classification; 3) documentation of initial tumor size; and 4) GKS was the only radiosurgical modality in the treatment. In the analysis only patients with AAO-HNS Class A or B or Gardner-Robertson Grade I or II status at the last follow-up visit were defined as having preserved hearing. Hearing preservation and outcome data were then aggregated and analyzed based on the radiation dose, tumor volume, and patient age.


The 45 articles that met the authors' inclusion criteria represented 4234 patients in whom an overall hearing preservation rate was 51%, irrespective of radiation dose, patient age, or tumor volume. Practitioners who delivered an average ≤ 13-Gy dose of radiation reported a higher hearing preservation rate (60.5% at ≤ 13 Gy vs 50.4% at > 13 Gy; p = 0.0005). Patients with smaller tumors (average tumor volume ≤ 1.5 cm3) had a hearing preservation rate (62%) comparable with patients harboring larger tumors (61%) (p = 0.8968). Age was not a significant prognostic factor for hearing preservation rates as in older patients there was a trend toward improved hearing preservation rates (56% at < 65 years vs 71% at ≥ 65 years of age; p < 0.1134). The average overall follow-up in the studies reviewed was 44.4 ± 32 months (median 35 months).


These data provide a methodical overview of the literature regarding hearing preservation with GKS for VS and a less biased assessment of outcomes than single-institution studies. This objective analysis provides insight into advising patients of hearing preservation rates for GKS treatment of VSs that have been reported, as aggregated in the published literature. Analysis of the data suggests that an overall hearing preservation rate of ~ 51% can be expected approaching 3–4 years after radiosurgical treatment, and the analysis reveals that patients treated with ≤ 13 Gy were more likely to have preserved hearing than patients receiving larger doses of radiation. Furthermore, larger tumors and older patients do not appear to be at any increased risk for hearing loss after GKS for VS than younger patients or patients with smaller tumors.

Abbreviations used in this paper: AAO-HNS = American Association of Otolaryngology–Head and Neck Surgery; GKS = Gamma Knife surgery; VS = vestibular schwannoma.

Article Information

Address correspondence to: Andrew T. Parsa, M.D., Ph.D., Department of Neurological Surgery, University of California at San Francisco, 505 Parnassus Avenue, San Francisco, California 94117. email: parsaa@neurosurg.ucsf.edu.

Please include this information when citing this paper: published online September 11, 2009; DOI: 10.3171/2009.8.JNS0985.

© AANS, except where prohibited by US copyright law.



  • View in gallery

    Bar graph showing hearing preservation stratified by radiation dose (≤ 13 Gy vs > 13 Gy).

  • View in gallery

    Hearing preservation analyzed by tumor volume stratified by tumor size (≤ 1.5 cm3 vs > 1.5 cm3).

  • View in gallery

    Hearing preservation analyzed as a function of age (< 65 years vs ≥ 65 years of age).


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