Surgical approaches and long-term outcomes of intramedullary spinal cord cavernous malformations: a single-center consecutive series of 219 patients

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Optimal surgical strategies for intramedullary spinal cord cavernous malformations (ISCCMs) are not optimized and remain problematic. In this study the authors identify rational surgical strategies for ISCCMs and predictors of outcomes after resection.


A single-center study was performed with 219 consecutive surgically treated patients who presented from 2002 to 2017 and were analyzed retrospectively. The American Spinal Injury Association (ASIA) Impairment Scale was used to evaluate neurological functions. Patient characteristics, surgical approaches, and immediate and long-term postoperative outcomes were identified.


The average ISCCM size was 10.5 mm. The spinal level affected was cervical in 24.8% of patients, thoracic in 73.4%, and lumbar in 1.8%. The locations of the lesions in the horizontal plane were 30.4% ventral, 41.6% dorsal, and 28.0% central. Of the 214 patients included in the cohort for operative evaluation, 62.6% had superficially located lesions, while 37.4% were embedded. Gross-total resection was achieved in 98.1% of patients. The immediate postoperative neurological condition worsened in 10.3% of the patients. Multivariate logistic regression identified mild preoperative function (p = 0.014, odds ratio [OR] 4.5, 95% confidence interval [CI] 1.4–14.8) and thoracolumbar-level lesions (p = 0.01, OR 15.7, 95% CI 1.9–130.2) as independent predictors of worsening. The mean follow-up duration in 187 patients was 45.9 months. Of these patients, 63.1% were stable, 33.2% improved, and 3.7% worsened. Favorable outcomes were observed in 86.1% of patients during long-term follow-up and were significantly associated with preoperative mild neurological and disability status (p = 0.000) and cervically located lesions (p = 0.009). The depths of the lesions were associated with worse long-term outcomes (p = 0.001), and performing myelotomy directly through a yellowish abnormal surface in moderate-depth lesions was an independent predictor of worsening (p = 0.023, OR 35.3, 95% CI 1.6–756.3).


Resection performed with an individualized surgical approach remains the primary therapeutic option in ISCCMs. Performing surgery in patients with mild symptoms at the thoracolumbar level and embedded located lesions requires more discretion.

ABBREVIATIONS ADREZotomy = anterior to dorsal root entry zone myelotomy; ASIA = American Spinal Injury Association; CI = confidence interval; CM = cavernous malformation; DREZotomy = dorsal root entry zone myelotomy; ISCCM = intramedullary spinal cord CM; OR = odds ratio.

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Contributor Notes

Correspondence Hongqi Zhang: Xuanwu Hospital, Capital Medical University, China International Neuroscience Institute, Beijing, China. WHEN CITING Published online April 5, 2019; DOI: 10.3171/2018.12.SPINE181263.

J.R. and T.H. contributed equally to this work.

Disclosures The authors report no conflict of interest concerning the materials or methods used in this study or the findings specified in this paper.


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