CAVERNOUS SINUS SURGERY has been performed increasingly in the last 2 decades because of new knowledge and technologies. With increasing international expertise in cavernous sinus surgery, the results must be analyzed critically to search for accurate prognosticators of outcome. We performed a retrospective review of 124 patients (40 male, 84 female; mean age, 45 years) who underwent cavernous sinus surgery for benign tumors from 1983 to 1992. Sixty-five percent had tumors encasing the internal carotid artery. Mean follow-up was 29 months (median, 26 mo). Gross total or near-total resection was possible in 80%. Patients with neurilemomas, angiofibromas, epidermoids, chondroblastomas, and hemangiomas were more likely to have total or near-total resection (100% versus 75%, P < 0.025). Disabling complications (five cerebral infarctions, two meningitis, and one hydrocephalus with chiasmal prolapse) occurred only in patients with meningiomas or pituitary adenomas. On follow-up, excellent/good binocular vision was achieved in 53% of patients entering surgery with excellent/good function versus 25% who entered surgery with fair/poor binocular vision (P < 0.025). Ninety-three percent of patients had a Karnofsky score > or = 70 on follow-up. There were a total of 12 recurrences (10%), 6 in patients with meningiomas, 2 in patients with angiofibromas, 2 in patients with craniopharyngiomas, 1 in a patient with a pituitary adenoma, and 1 in a patient with an osteoblastoma. Patients with tumor growth or neurological symptoms indicative of progressive cavernous sinus involvement should undergo cavernous sinus exploration. This surgery has acceptable morbidity and mortality and, if the tumor can be removed easily, the surgeon should try to perform radical tumor resection. To avoid major complications, the surgeon must exercise utmost care to preserve the neurovascular structures of the cavernous sinus, with special attention to tumors that extend into the petroclival region. Better results from surgery can be expected in those patients with neurilemomas, hemangiomas, or epidermoids than in patients with meningiomas, craniopharyngiomas, or pituitary adenomas. Good functional outcome can be expected, particularly if the patient's preoperative clinical status is good. Particular attention must be paid to the reconstruction of anatomic barriers in order to prevent cerebrospinal fluid leakage and subsequent meningitis.