The best operative intervention for children with arachnoid cysts remains the subject of controversy. Recent reports stress that craniotomy for cyst fenestration is associated with a low incidence of morbidity and mortality and may leave the child shunt-independent. Among a total of 66 intracranial arachnoid cysts operated on in the authors' department from 1985 to 1997, 44 cases (67%) were located in the middle cranial fossa. A higher incidence in the first decade of life (53 cases) and a marked male predominance (45 cases) were recognized. Headache, cranial deformities, symptoms of raised intracranial pressure, and seizures constituted the most frequent features of the clinical presentation. To determine which treatment provides the greatest benefit with the lowest incidence of complications, the records of the 44 patients with arachnoid cysts in the middle cranial fossa were reviewed. The mean age of these patients was 4.6 years (range 0-16 years). Different types of initial surgical procedures were performed. In 33 patients with middle cranial fossa arachnoid cysts (MCFAC) the initial surgery took the form of craniotomy with excision of the cyst walls and fenestration into the basal cisterns. Shunting procedures were performed in 9 patients: cysto-peritoneal shunts (CPS) were placed in 4 patients and ventriculo-peritoneal shunts (VPS), in 3 patients, and cyst excision was performed in addition to CPS in 2 patients. Excision of the cyst membrane alone without fenestration was performed in 2 patients. The initial treatment was successful in terms of reduced symptoms and decreased cyst size, with no additional treatment needed for the cyst, in 79% (26/33) of patients who had undergone excision of the cyst walls and fenestration into the basal cisterns, compared with 66% (6/9) of patients who had undergone shunting procedures. Cyst membrane excision was not successful in any of the patients who underwent this procedure alone. No significant difference in morbidity was noted between these different treatment options. On follow-up CT scan and MRI, cysts of types I and II (Galassi classification) exhibited a steady tendency to reduction or obliteration. These results confirm that radical excision of the outer and inner membranes of the cyst wall with fenestration into the basal cistern is a safe and effective shunt-independent procedure for MCFAC, especially for those of types I and II.