Brainstem cavernous malformations (BSCMs) are relatively uncommon, low-flow vascular lesions in children. Given the paucity of data, guidelines regarding the clinical management of BSCMs in children are lacking and the surgical indication is most commonly based on an individual surgeon’s judgment and experience. The goal in this study was to evaluate the clinical behavior of BSCMs in childhood and the long-term outcome in children managed conservatively and surgically.
This was an observational, retrospective study including all children with BSCMs who were followed at 2 institutions between 2008 and 2020.
The study population consisted of 40 children (27 boys, 67.5%) with a mean age of 11.4 years. Twenty-three children (57.5%) were managed conservatively, whereas 17 children (42.5%) underwent resection of BSCMs. An aggressive clinical course was observed in 13 children (32.5%), who experienced multiple hemorrhages with a progressive pattern of neurological decline. Multiple BSCMs were observed in 8 patients, of whom 3 patients presented with a complex of multiple tightly attached BSCMs and posed a significant therapeutic challenge. The overall long-term outcome was favorable (modified Rankin Scale [mRS] scores 0–2) in 36 patients (90%), whereas an unfavorable outcome (mRS scores 3 and 4) was seen in 4 children (10%). An mRS score of 5 or 6 was not observed. The mean (± SD) follow-up was 88.0 (± 92.6) months.
The clinical course of BSCMs in children is highly variable, with benign lesions on the one hand and highly aggressive lesions with repetitive hemorrhages on the other. Given the greater life expectancy and the known higher functional recovery in children, surgical treatment should be considered early in young patients presenting with surgically accessible lesions and an aggressive clinical course, and it should be performed in a high-volume center.