Object: The roles of the wait-and-see strategy and proactive Gamma Knife surgery (GKS) in the treatment paradigm for small intracanalicular vestibular schwannomas (VSs) is still a matter of debate, especially when patients present with functional hearing. The authors compare these 2 methods.
Methods: Forty-seven patients (22 men and 25 women) harboring an intracanalicular VS were followed prospectively. The mean age of the patients at the time of inclusion was 54.4 years (range 20-71 years). The mean follow-up period was 43.8 ± 40 months (range 9-222 months). Failure was defined as significant tumor growth and/or hearing deterioration that required microsurgical or radiosurgical treatment. This population was compared with a control group of 34 patients harboring a unilateral intracanalicular VS who were consecutively treated by GKS and had functional hearing at the time of radiosurgery.
Results: Of the 47 patients in the wait-and-see group, treatment failure (tumor growth requiring treatment) was observed in 35 patients (74%), although conservative treatment is still ongoing for 12 patients. Treatment failure in the control (GKS) group occurred in only 1 (3%) of 34 patients. In the wait-and-see group, there was no change in tumor size in 10 patients (21%), tumor growth in 36 patients (77%), and a mild decrease in tumor size in 1 patient (2%). Forty patients in the wait-and-see group were available for a hearing level study, which demonstrated no change in Gardner-Robertson hearing class for 24 patients (60%). Fifteen patients (38%) experienced more than 10 db of hearing loss and 2 of them became deaf. At 3, 4, and 5 years, the useful hearing preservation rates were 75%, 52%, and 41% in the wait-and-see group and 77%, 70%, and 64% in the control group, respectively. Thus, the chances of maintaining functional hearing and avoiding further intervention were much higher in cases treated by GKS (79% and 60% at 2 and 5 years, respectively) than in cases managed by the wait-and-see strategy (43% and 14% at 2 and 5 years, respectively).
Conclusions: These data indicate that the wait-and-see policy exposes the patient to elevated risks of tumor growth and degradation of hearing. Both events may occur independently in the mid-term period. This information must be presented to the patient. A careful sequential follow-up may be adopted when the wait-and-see strategy is chosen, but proactive GKS is recommended when hearing is still useful at the time of diagnosis. This recommendation may be a main paradigm shift in the practice of treating intracanalicular VSs.