The objective of this study was to evaluate the long-term outcomes after resection of brainstem cavernous malformations (BSCMs) and to assess the usefulness of the Lawton grading system in these cases.
This retrospective study analyzed 46 consecutive patients with BSCMs operated on between July 1990 and December 2020. Outcomes at the last follow-up were defined as favorable (modified Rankin Scale [mRS] score 0–2) or unfavorable (mRS score > 2).
The study cohort comprised 24 men (52%) and 22 women (48%), ranging in age from 8 to 78 years old (median 37 years). In 19 patients (41%), the preoperative mRS score was > 2. All patients had hemorrhagic BSCM. There were 12 (26%) mesencephalic, 19 (41%) pontine, 7 (15%) medullary, and 8 (17%) cerebellar peduncle lesions, with a maximal diameter ranging from 5 to 40 mm (median 15 mm). In total, 24 BSCMs (52%) had bilateral extension crossing the brainstem midline. Lawton grades of 0, I, II, III, IV, V, and VI were defined in 3 (7%), 2 (4%), 10 (22%), 11 (24%), 8 (17%), 7 (15%), and 5 (11%) cases, respectively. Total resection of BSCMs was attained in 43 patients (93%). There were no perioperative deaths. Excluding the 3 most recent cases, the length of follow-up ranged from 56 to 365 months. The majority of patients demonstrated good functional recovery, but regress of the preexisting oculomotor nerve deficit was usually incomplete. No new hemorrhagic events were noted after total resection of BSCMs. In 42 patients (91%), the mRS score at the time of last follow-up was ≤ 2 (favorable outcome), and in 18 (39%), it was 0 (absence of neurological symptoms). Forty-four patients (96%) demonstrated clinical improvement and 2 (4%) had no changes compared with the preoperative period. Multivariate analysis revealed that only lower Lawton grade had a statistically significant independent association (p = 0.0280) with favorable long-term outcome. The area under the receiver operating characteristic curve for prediction of favorable outcome with 7 available Lawton grades of BSCM was 0.93.
Resection of hemorrhagic BSCMs by an experienced neurosurgeon may be performed safely and effectively, even in severely disabled patients. In the authors’ experience, preexisting oculomotor nerve palsy represents the main cause of permanent postoperative neurological morbidity. The Lawton grading system effectively predicts long-term outcome after surgery.