Surgical treatment for primary spinal aneurysmal bone cysts: experience from Children's Hospital Boston

J Neurosurg Pediatr. 2012 Mar;9(3):305-15. doi: 10.3171/2011.12.PEDS11253.


Object: Spinal aneurysmal bone cysts (ABCs) constitute a rare and clinically challenging disease, primarily affecting the pediatric population. Information regarding the management of spinal ABCs remains sparse. In this study the authors review their experience with spinal ABCs at Children's Hospital Boston.

Methods: The medical records of all patients treated surgically for primary spinal ABCs between January 1998 and July 2010 were retrospectively reviewed.

Results: Fourteen cases were identified (6 males and 8 females, ages 5-19 years old). The ABCs were located throughout the spine, with an equal number in the thoracic and lumbar spine, and rarely in the cervical spine. The majority of patients presented with back pain, but neurological deficits and spinal deformity were common. A variety of radiographic techniques were used to establish the diagnosis, including needle biopsy. Preoperative selective arterial embolization was performed in 7 cases (50%), and the majority of cases required spinal instrumentation along with resection. Mean follow-up was 55.9 months (range 15-154 months) after initial intervention. Two ABCs recurred (14%), at 9 months and 8 years after incomplete initial resection, and the patients underwent reoperation. Complete resection was ultimately achieved in all cases. All patients were asymptomatic and neurologically intact at their last follow-up evaluation, and showed no evidence of deformity or recurrence on imaging.

Conclusions: Computed tomography and MR imaging are adequate for an initial evaluation of spinal ABCs, although solid variants can present a diagnostic challenge. Given the high rates of recurrence with residual disease, complete obliteration of the lesion should be the goal of treatment. Preoperative embolization is often performed, although in the authors' opinion the degree of bleeding tends not to support its routine use. Long-term follow-up is warranted as recurrences can occur years after initial intervention. However, gross-total excision in conjunction with spinal stabilization, as needed, usually provides cure of the ABC and excellent long-term spinal alignment.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Bone Cysts, Aneurysmal / complications
  • Bone Cysts, Aneurysmal / diagnosis*
  • Bone Cysts, Aneurysmal / surgery*
  • Boston
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Embolization, Therapeutic
  • Female
  • Hospitals, Pediatric
  • Humans
  • Lumbar Vertebrae
  • Male
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Spinal Diseases / complications
  • Spinal Diseases / diagnosis*
  • Spinal Diseases / surgery*
  • Spinal Fusion
  • Thoracic Vertebrae
  • Treatment Outcome
  • Young Adult