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John E. Wanebo, Russell R. Lonser, Gladys M. Glenn, and Edward H. Oldfield

Object. The goals of this study were to define the natural history and growth pattern of hemangioblastomas of the central nervous system (CNS) that are associated with von Hippel—Lindau (VHL) disease and to correlate features of hemangioblastomas that are associated with the development of symptoms and the need for treatment.

Methods. The authors reviewed serial magnetic resonance images and clinical histories of 160 consecutive patients with VHL disease who harbored CNS hemangioblastomas and serially measured the volumes of tumors and associated cysts.

Six hundred fifty-five hemangioblastomas were identified in the cerebellum (250 tumors), brainstem (64 tumors, all of which were located in the posterior medulla oblongata), spinal cord (331 tumors, 96% of which were located in the posterior half of spinal cord), and the supratentorial brain (10 tumors). The symptoms were related to a mass effect. A serial increase in hemangioblastoma size was observed in cerebellar, brainstem, and spinal cord tumors as patients progressed from being asymptomatic to symptomatic and requiring surgery (p < 0.0001). Twenty-one (72%) of 29 symptom-producing cerebellar tumors had an associated cyst, whereas only 28 (13%) of 221 nonsymptomatic cerebellar tumors had tumor-associated cysts (p < 0.0001). Nine (75%) of 12 symptomatic brainstem tumors had associated cysts, compared with only four (8%) of 52 nonsymptomatic brainstem lesions (p < 0.0001). By the time the symptoms appeared and surgery was required, the cyst was larger than the causative tumor; cerebellar and brainstem cysts measured 34 and 19 times the size of their associated tumors at surgery, respectively. Ninety-five percent of symptom-producing spinal hemangioblastomas were associated with syringomyelia.

The clinical circumstance was dynamic. Among the 88 patients who had undergone serial imaging for 6 months or longer (median 32 months), 164 (44%) of 373 hemangioblastomas and 37 (67%) of 55 tumor-associated cysts enlarged. No tumors or cysts spontaneously diminished in size. Symptomatic cerebellar and brainstem tumors grew at rates six and nine times greater, respectively, than asymptomatic tumors in the same regions. Cysts enlarged seven (cerebellum) and 15 (brainstem) times faster than the hemangioblastomas causing them. Hemangioblastomas frequently demonstrated a pattern of growth in which they would enlarge for a period of time (growth phase) and then stabilize in a period of arrested growth (quiescent phase). Of 69 patients with documented tumor growth, 18 (26%) harbored tumors with at least two growth phases. Of 160 patients with hemangioblastomas, 34 patients (median follow up 51 months) were found to have 115 new hemangioblastomas and 15 patients new tumor-associated cysts.

Conclusions. In this study the authors define the natural history of CNS hemangioblastomas associated with VHL disease. Not only were cysts commonly associated with cerebellar, brainstem, and spinal hemangioblastomas, the pace of enlargement was much faster for cysts than for hemangioblastomas. By the time symptoms appeared, the majority of mass effect—producing symptoms derived from the cyst, rather than from the tumor causing the cyst. These tumors often have multiple periods of tumor growth separated by periods of arrested growth, and many untreated tumors may remain the same size for several years. These characteristics must be considered when determining the optimal timing of screening for individual patients and for evaluating the timing and results of treatment.

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Robert J. Weil, Russell R. Lonser, Hetty L. Devroom, John E. Wanebo, and Edward H. Oldfield

Object. Hemangioblastomas of the brainstem constitute 5 to 10% of central nervous system (CNS) tumors in patients with von Hippel—Lindau (VHL) disease. At present, optimal management of brainstem hemangioblastomas associated with VHL disease is incompletely defined. In an attempt to clarify some of the uncertainty about the operative treatment of these lesions and its outcome, the authors reviewed all cases of VHL disease in which resection of brainstem hemangioblastomas was performed at the National Institutes of Health during a 10-year period.

Methods. Twelve consecutive patients with VHL disease (six male and six female patients [mean age 31.7 ± 9 years; range 15–46 years]) who underwent 13 operations to remove 17 brainstem hemangioblastomas were included in this study (mean follow-up period, 88.4 ± 37.4 months; range 37–144 months). Serial examinations, hospital charts, magnetic resonance images, and operative records were reviewed. To evaluate clinical course, clinical grades were assigned to each patient before and after surgery.

Preoperative neurological function was the best predictor of long-term outcome. In addition, patients who underwent CNS surgeries for hemangioblastomas were more likely to improve or to remain neurologically stable. Tumor or cyst size, the presence of a cyst, or the location of the tumor (intramedullary, extramedullary, or mixed; posterior medullary, obex, or lateral) did not affect outcome. No patient was neurologically worse after brainstem surgery. At long-term follow-up review (mean 88.4 months), only one patient had declined neurologically and this was due to the cumulative neurological effects caused by eight additional hemangioblastomas of the spinal cord and their surgical treatment.

Conclusions. Brainstem hemangioblastomas in patients with VHL disease can be removed safely; they generally should be resected when they become symptomatic or when the tumor has reached a size such that further growth will increase the risks associated with surgery, or in the presence of an enlarging cyst. Magnetic resonance imaging is usually sufficient for preoperative evaluation and presurgical embolization is unnecessary. The goal of surgery is complete resection of the lesion before the patient experiences a disabling neurological deficit.

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Russell R. Lonser, Robert J. Weil, John E. Wanebo, Hetty L. Devroom, and Edward H. Oldfield

Object. Von Hippel—Lindau (VHL) disease is an autosomal-dominant disorder frequently associated with hemangioblastomas of the spinal cord. Because of the slow progression, protean nature, and high frequency of multiple spinal hemangioblastomas associated with VHL disease, the surgical management of these lesions is complex. Because prior reports have not identified the factors that predict which patients with spinal cord hemangioblastomas need surgery or what outcomes of this procedure should be expected, the authors have reviewed a series of patients with VHL disease who underwent resection of spinal hemangioblastomas at a single institution to identify features that might guide surgical management of these patients.

Methods. Forty-four consecutive patients with VHL disease (26 men and 18 women) who underwent 55 operations with resection of 86 spinal cord hemangioblastomas (mean age at surgery 34 years; range 20–58 years) at the National Institutes of Health were included in this study (mean clinical follow up 44 months). Patient examination, review of hospital charts, operative findings, and magnetic resonance imaging studies were used to analyze surgical management and its outcome. To evaluate the clinical course, clinical grades were assigned to patients before and after surgery. Preoperative neurological status, tumor size, and tumor location were predictive of postoperative outcome. Patients with no or minimal preoperative neurological dysfunction, with lesions smaller than 500 mm3, and with dorsal lesions were more likely to have no or minimal neurological impairment. Syrinx resolution was the result of tumor removal and was not influenced by whether the syrinx cavity was entered.

Conclusions. Spinal cord hemangioblastomas can be safely removed in the majority of patients with VHL disease. Generally in these patients, hemangioblastomas of the spinal cord should be removed when they produce symptoms or signs.