Imaging Spectrum of Cavernous Sinus Lesions with Histopathologic Correlation

Radiographics. 2019 May-Jun;39(3):795-819. doi: 10.1148/rg.2019180122. Epub 2019 Apr 12.


Cavernous sinuses are paired interconnected venous plexuses situated in the floor of the middle cranial fossa on either side of the sella turcica and sphenoid sinus. They are lined by dura mater and consist of multiple venous channels within. The cavernous sinuses are intimately related to the internal carotid artery and its associated sympathetic plexus, the oculomotor nerve, the trochlear nerve, the abducens nerve, and the ophthalmic nerve. Cavernous sinuses are connected to the orbit, the pterygopalatine fossa, the infratemporal fossa, the nasopharynx, and the posterior cranial fossa by various foramina, fissures, and canals in the skull base. A multitude of structures in close relation to the cavernous sinus give rise to a myriad of possible pathologic conditions that can be broadly classified into (a) neoplastic, (b) vascular, (c) infective or inflammatory, or (d) miscellaneous lesions. These pathologic conditions can have overlapping clinical manifestations. Hence, imaging plays a crucial role in identifying the disease, assessing its extent, providing a pertinent differential diagnosis to guide further management, and suggesting a site or route for biopsy. MRI is the modality of choice to depict the cavernous sinuses, with CT and digital subtraction angiography playing supplementary roles in certain situations. In this article, the cavernous sinus lesions encountered in our institution during a 10-year period are reviewed. The purpose of the article is to (a) describe the anatomy of the cavernous sinus; (b) demonstrate the multimodality imaging spectrum of a wide variety of pathologic conditions involving the cavernous sinus, correlating with the histopathologic findings; (c) highlight important imaging clues for differential diagnosis; and (d) help the reader overcome potential pitfalls in interpretation. Online supplemental material is available for this article. ©RSNA, 2019.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Algorithms
  • Angiography, Digital Subtraction / methods
  • Brain Neoplasms / diagnostic imaging
  • Cavernous Sinus / diagnostic imaging*
  • Cavernous Sinus / pathology
  • Cavernous Sinus Thrombosis / diagnostic imaging
  • Cerebral Arteries / diagnostic imaging
  • Cerebral Veins / diagnostic imaging
  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Female
  • Head and Neck Neoplasms / diagnostic imaging*
  • Head and Neck Neoplasms / pathology
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Skull / diagnostic imaging
  • Tomography, X-Ray Computed / methods
  • Young Adult