Proximity of brainstem cavernous malformations (BSCMs) to tracts and cranial nerve nuclei make it costly to transgress normal tissue in accessing the lesion or disrupting normal tissue adjacent to the lesion in the separation plane. This interplay between tissue sensitivity and extreme eloquence makes it difficult to avoid leaving a remnant on occasion. Recurrences require operative intervention, which may increase morbidity, lengthen recovery, and add to overall costs. An approximately 20-year experience with patients with recurrent BSCM lesions following primary microsurgical resection was reviewed.
A prospectively maintained database of 802 patients who underwent microsurgical resection of cerebral cavernous malformations during 1997–2018 was queried to identify 213 patients with BSCMs. A retrospective chart review was conducted for patients with recurrent BSCM after primary resection who required a second surgery.
Fourteen of 213 patients (6.6%) underwent repeat resection for recurrent BSCM. Thirty-four hemorrhagic events were observed among these 14 patients over 576 patient-years (recurrent hemorrhage rate, 5.9% per year; median discrete hemorrhagic events, 2; median time to rehemorrhage, 897 days). BSCM occurred in the pons in 10 cases, midbrain in 2 cases, and medulla in 2 cases. A blind spot in the operative corridor was the most common cause of residual BSCM (9 patients). All recurrent BSCMs were removed completely, although 2 patients each required 2 operations to treat recurrence. Twelve patients had unchanged or improved modified Rankin Scale scores at last clinical evaluation compared with admission, and 2 patients had worse scores. Recurrence was more common among patients who were operated on in the first versus the second half of the series (8.5% vs 4.7%).
The 6.6% rate of BSCM recurrence requiring reoperation reflects the fine lines between complete resection and recurrence and between safe and harmful surgery. The detection of remnants is difficult postoperatively and remains so even at 6 months when the resection bed has healed. The 5.9% annual hemorrhage risk associated with recurrent BSCM in this experience is consistent with that reported for unoperated BSCMs. The right-angle method helps to anticipate blind spots and meticulously inspect the resection cavity for residual BSCM during surgery. A low percentage of recurrent BSCM (5%–10%) ensures ongoing effort toward an acceptable balance of safety and completeness.