Object: Management options for arteriovenous malformations (AVMs) of the brainstem are limited. The long-term results of stereotactic radiosurgery for these disease entities are poorly understood. In this report the authors reviewed both neurological and radiological outcomes following stereotactic radiosurgery for brainstem AVMs over 15 years of experience.
Methods: Fifty patients with brainstem AVMs underwent gamma knife surgery between 1987 and 2002. There were 29 male and 21 female patients with an age range of 7 to 79 years (median 35 years). Anatomical locations of these AVMs included the midbrain (39 lesions), pons (20 lesions), and medulla oblongata (three lesions). The radiation dose applied to the margin of the AVM varied from 12 to 26 Gy (median 20 Gy). Forty-five patients were followed up from 5 to 176 months (mean 72 months). The angiographically confirmed actuarial obliteration rate was 66% at the final follow-up examination. Two patients experienced a hemorrhage before obliteration. The annual hemorrhage rate was 1.7% for the first 3 years after radiosurgery and 0% thereafter. Patients who had received irradiation at two or fewer isocenters had higher obliteration rates (80% compared with 44% for > two isocenters, p = 0.006), and this was related to a more spherical nidus shape. The rate of persistent neurological complications in patients treated using magnetic resonance imaging-based dose planning after 1993 was 7%, compared with 20% in patients treated before 1993. An older patient age, a lesion located in the tectum, and a higher radiosurgery-based score were significantly associated with greater neurological complications.
Conclusions: Stereotactic radiosurgery provided complete obliteration of AVMs in two thirds of the patients with a low risk of latency-interval hemorrhage. Better three-dimensional imaging studies and conformal dose planning reduced the risk of adverse radiation effects. Younger patients harboring more spherical AVMs that did not involve the tectal plate had the best outcomes.