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Treatment Options - Microsurgery

A.  Subtotal Removal:

Subtotal removal is indicated when anything further risks life or neurological function.  In these cases the residual tumor should be followed for risk of growth (approximately 35%). If the residual tumor grows further, treatment will likely be required.  Periodic MRI studies are important to follow the potential growth rate of any tumor.

Older patients with large tumors causing a threat to life may elect to have their surgeon sub-totally remove their tumor. Partial tumor removal has also been advocated in some patients who have large tumors in their only hearing ear. This surgical management will reduce the tumor in size, so that it may cause no threat to the patient's health during his or her life expectancy. This approach may reduce the probability of facial nerve dysfunction as a result of the surgery. 

B.  Near Total Tumor Removal:

This approach is used by experienced centers when small areas of the tumor are so adherent to the facial nerve that total removal would result in facial weakness.  The piece left is generally less than 1% of the original and poses a risk of regrowth of approximately 3%.  Periodic MRI studies are important to follow the potential growth rate of any tumor.

C.  Total Tumor Removal:

Many tumors can be entirely removed by surgery. Microsurgical techniques and instruments, along with the operating microscope, have greatly reduced the surgical risks of total tumor removal. Preservation of the facial nerve to prevent permanent facial paralysis is the primary task for the experienced acoustic neuroma surgeon. Preservation of hearing is an important goal for patients who present with functional hearing.  Both facial nerve function and hearing is electrically monitored during surgery. This is a valuable aid for the surgeon while the tumor is being removed.


Figure 4. Comparison of partial and total tumor removal.  Every effort is made to remove the tumor without damaging the adjacent nerves or vital brainstem functions.  Sometimes it may be best to leave small pieces of tumor capsule attached to critical structures rather than risk damage.  If over time the tumor remnant grows, futher treatment is warranted.  (Printed with permission of the Mayfield Clinic – www.mayfieldclinic.com)


D.  Surgical Procedures:

The surgery is performed by a team of physicians including a neurotologist (ear and skull base surgeon) and a neurosurgeon.There are three main microsurgical approaches for the removal of an acoustic neuroma: translabyrinthine, retrosigmoid/sub-occipital and middle fossa.  The approach used for each individual patient is based on several factors such as tumor size, location, skill and experience of the surgeon, and whether or not hearing preservation is a goal.  The surgeon and the patient should thoroughly discuss the reasons for a selected appoach.  Each of the surgical approaches has advantages and disadvantages, and excellent results have been achieved using all three of the techniques.  


Three surgical approaches to an acoustic neuroma: retrosigmoid/sub-occipital, translabyrinthine and middle fossa
(Printed with permission of the Mayfield Clinic - www.mayfieldclinic.com)


Translabyrinthine Approach:The translabyrinthine approach may be preferred by the surgical team when the patient has no useful hearing, or when an attempt to preserve hearing would be impractical. The incision for this approach is located behind the ear. It involves removing the mastoid bone   (the bone behind the ear) and the bone of the inner ear, allowing excellent exposure of the internal auditory canal and tumor. This also results in permanent and complete hearing loss in that ear.  This approach facilitates the identification of the facial nerve in the temporal bone prior to any removal of the tumor. The surgeon has the advantage of knowing the location of the facial nerve prior to tumor dissection and removal.  Any size tumor can be removed with this approach.  A second, small incision typically is made in the abdomen to harvest fat.  This fat is added during surgery and is the substance that is used to prevent a cerebral spinal fluid (CSF) leak after the tumor is removed.  This approach affords the least likelihood of long-term postoperative headaches.


 • Retrosigmoid/sub-occipital Approach: The incision for this approach is  located in a slightly different location.  This approach creates an opening in the skull behind the mastoid part of the ear, near the back of the head on the side of the tumor. The surgeon exposes the tumor from its posterior (back) surface, thereby getting a very good view of the tumor in relation to the brainstem. When removing large tumors through this approach, the facial nerve can be exposed by early opening of the internal auditory canal. Any size tumor can be removed with this approach.  One of the main advantages of the retrosigmoid approach is the possibility of preserving hearing. For small tumors, a disadvantage lies in the risk of long-term postoperative headache.


Middle Fossa Approach: This approach utilizes a different incision location and is utilized primarily for the purpose of hearing preservation in patients with small tumors, typically confined to the internal auditory canal. A small window of bone is removed above the ear canal to allow exposure of the tumor from the upper surface of the internal auditory canal, preserving the inner ear structures.



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