Stereotactic radiosurgery (SRS) is commonly performed in patients with trigeminal neuralgia, and numerous investigators have found that facial pain outcomes after this procedure are better for patients in whom prior surgery did not fail. Researchers in some centers claim that the results of SRS are equivalent to posterior fossa exploration (PFE). The goal in this study was to verify that claim.
Information was retrieved from a prospectively maintained database of patients less than 70 years old with idiopathic trigeminal neuralgia who underwent PFE (55 patients) or SRS (28 patients) as their initial surgery between 1999 and 2004. Of the two groups, patients who underwent radiosurgery were older (60.5 compared with 50.7 years, p < 0.001). Microvascular decompression was performed in 49 patients (89%) and partial nerve section was performed in six (11%) in the PFE group. The mean maximum dose for SRS was 89.1 Gy. At a mean follow-up duration of 25.5 months, patients who had undergone PFE were more commonly pain free without medications (75% at 1 year, 72% at 3 years) compared with the patients treated with SRS (59% at 1 and 3 years; p = 0.01). Additional surgery was performed in 10 patients (18%) after PFE, compared with eight patients (29%) after SRS (p = 0.4). Eight patients (15%) had either new facial numbness (six cases) or dysesthesias (two cases) after PFE, whereas 12 (43%) had either new facial numbness (eight cases) or dysesthesias (four cases) after SRS. No correlation was noted between the development of facial numbness and facial pain outcome after PFE (p = 0.37), whereas patients in whom trigeminal dysfunction developed after radiosurgery were more frequently free of pain (p = 0.02).
The results support PFE as a more effective primary surgery than SRS in patients with idiopathic trigeminal neuralgia. Moreover, injury to the trigeminal nerve during PFE is not required to achieve excellent facial pain outcomes.