Harvey Cushing’s craniopharyngioma treatment: Part 2. Surgical strategies and results of his pioneering series

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  • 1 Department of Neurosurgery, Puerta de Hierro University Hospital;
  • 2 Department of Neurosurgery, La Princesa University Hospital; and
  • 3 Statistics Department, Computing Center, CSIC, Madrid, Spain
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OBJECTIVE

Harvey Cushing (1869–1939) developed pioneering surgical techniques for craniopharyngioma (CP) removal. This study exhaustively analyzes the pathological variables and surgical strategies that influenced Cushing’s results in his entire series of CP patients.

METHODS

The CP records from Cushing’s Brain Tumor Registry were carefully reviewed, as were his CP cases published in medical monographs and scientific reports.

RESULTS

One hundred twenty-four tumors with characteristics typical of CP comprise Cushing’s entire series (CP124). Cushing performed 198 surgical procedures in the patients in whom these tumors were treated, with a 23% mortality rate within the first 2 months after surgery. Three periods in Cushing’s CP surgical career can be differentiated: an early period (1901–1917, 39 patients) characterized by his use of the transsphenoidal approach and limited cyst drainage procedures, an intermediate period (1919–1925, 42 patients) in which the subfrontal approach was the standard procedure and maximal removal was attempted, and a late period (1926–1932, 43 patients) characterized by the use of air ventriculography for topographical diagnosis and limited resections via a transventricular approach. Among Cushing’s CP series were 92 cases that were pathologically verified (CP92). In this subcohort, the unilateral subfrontal approach was predominantly used (72% of cases), followed by the transsphenoidal (15%) and frontal transcortical-transventricular (8%) approaches. Drainage of the CP cystic component or partial excision of the solid component was achieved in 61% of the cases, subtotal removal in 23%, and macroscopic total removal in 10%. Satisfactory outcomes were obtained in 55% of the patients in CP92, whereas poor outcomes and/or death related to hypothalamic injury was observed in 28%. Postoperative symptoms related to hypothalamic dysfunction occurred 53% of the time. The subfrontal approach yielded the highest rates of radical removal (p < 0.001) and good outcomes (p = 0.01). Partial removals were associated with the highest rates of poor outcomes, including death (p = 0.009). Cushing’s removal of CPs with a primary infundibulo-tuberal topography or showing third ventricle invasion was associated with the highest rates of hypothalamic injury (p < 0.001) and the worst outcomes (p = 0.009).

CONCLUSIONS

Harvey Cushing’s techniques and surgical philosophy varied substantially throughout his career. The experience he gained with this large CP series made him aware of the importance of limiting the extent of tumor removal and leaving untouched the tumor portion strongly adhered to the hypothalamus.

ABBREVIATIONS BTR = Brain Tumor Registry; CP = craniopharyngioma; CP92 = Cushing’s subcohort of 92 pathologically verified CPs; CP124 = Cushing’s entire series of 124 CPs; DTC = decompressive temporal craniectomy; FTV = frontal transcortical-transventricular; IT = infundibulo-tuberal; SubF = subfrontal; TLT = trans–lamina terminalis; TSF = transsphenoidal; 3V = third ventricle; 3VF = 3V floor.

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Contributor Notes

Correspondence Ruth Prieto: Puerta de Hierro University Hospital, Madrid, Spain. rprieto29@hotmail.com.

INCLUDE WHEN CITING Published online October 5, 2018; DOI: 10.3171/2018.5.JNS18154.

R.P. and J.M.P. contributed equally to this work.

Disclosures The authors report no conflict of interest concerning the materials or methods used in this study or the findings specified in this paper.

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