Background: Within the realm of neurosurgery, petroclival meningiomas are regarded as probably the most difficult tumour to be treated by microsurgery. This is due to the not infrequently large size of the tumours which, although predominantly located in the posterior fossa, may occupy more than one cranial compartment, with often significant space-occupying effect and brain stem compression. Frequent tight brain stem adherence as well as encasement of the basilar artery, its perforators and cranial nerves adds to the sometimes extreme difficulties of surgical tumour removal. Counselling patients as well as pre- and intraoperative decision making in petroclival meningiomas is even more difficult because upon clinical and radiological tumour detection, despite sometimes surprisingly large tumours, clinical symptoms are often only mild. Summarising the complicated development of petroclival meningioma surgery over the last 60 years, this paper represents the conceptual thinking of the author in regard to the treatment of petroclival meningiomas which has evolved over more than two decades, based on a special interest in these treacherous tumours, and accumulated experiences in the treatment of over 150 patients. Surgical concepts and the operative decision-making process are demonstrated in four illustrative cases.
Methods: Over a period of slightly over 20 years, between January 1988 and December 2008, 161 patients with petroclival meningiomas were managed clinically by the author or under his direct surveillance in four academic neurosurgical institutions. The observation period ranged from 4 to 242 months. Thirteen patients were lost to follow-up so, all together, complete data were available for 148 patients. In 119 patients (80%), the tumour was large. Giant tumours accounted for 7% and 11 patients, medium-sized tumours were found in 12 patients (8%) and small tumours in only six patients (4%). Sixty-two percent of the patients had invasion of Meckel's cave or some part of the cavernous sinus, mainly the posterior region to different degrees. All giant tumours and one third of the large tumours extended into more than one cranial fossa.
Results: The treatment modalities in the 148 patients were as follows: microsurgery alone was performed in 71 patients (48%), microsurgery and adjuvant radiosurgery in 22 patients (15%) so in 93 patients (63%), altogether, microsurgery was the primary treatment. Twenty-nine patients (20%) underwent radiosurgery as their only treatment, and two patients (1%), during the very early phase of the study period, received radiotherapy. Twenty-four patients (16%) were only observed without any additional therapy. Gross total resection was achieved in 34 patients (37%), and subtotal resection, defined as removal of more than 90% of the tumour volume, was performed in another 36 patients (39%). Radical tumour removal was possible in 76% of the patients. There was no procedure-related death within 3 months post-surgery; the early post-op surgical complication rate was 31% with new neurological deficits or worsening of pre-existing deficits. During the observation period, almost all patients recovered significantly bringing the percentage of permanent neurological deficits, again mainly cranial nerve deficits, down to 22%.
Conclusions: Based on the experiences of the author, the following treatment principles in petroclival meningiomas are proposed: small tumours in asymptomatic patients should be observed. If tumour growth is detected on serial magnetic resonance imaging or treatment is desired by the patient, surgery should be the first choice. Radiosurgery in growing small tumours should be reserved to patients with advanced age or significant co-morbidities. In medium-sized tumours and symptomatic patients, radical surgery should be attempted, if possible by judicious intraoperative judgement. In large and giant petroclival meningiomas, tumour resection as radical as possible judged intraoperatively with decompression of neural structures should be performed, followed by observation and, in the case of growing tumour remnants, radiosurgery. Thus, by a combined application of advanced microsurgical techniques, thoughtful, intraoperative decision making with limited surgical aggressively and, in selected patients, with small tumours or small tumour remnants simple observation or alternative or adjunct radiosurgery, excellent results as measured by tumour control and preservation of quality of life can be achieved.