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Hydrocephalus caused by metastatic brain lesions: treatment by third ventriculostomy
  1. Department of Neurosurgery
  2. Department of Medicine, Division of Oncology, SUNY Health Science Center, University Hospital, Syracuse, New York, USA
  1. Dr G S Rodziewicz, Department of Neurosurgery, 750 East Adam Street, Syracuse, NY 13210, USA. Telephone 001 315 464 4470;fax 001 315 464 5520;emailrodziewg{at}
  1. Department of Neurosurgery
  2. Department of Medicine, Division of Oncology, SUNY Health Science Center, University Hospital, Syracuse, New York, USA
  1. Dr G S Rodziewicz, Department of Neurosurgery, 750 East Adam Street, Syracuse, NY 13210, USA. Telephone 001 315 464 4470;fax 001 315 464 5520;emailrodziewg{at}

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Metastasis to the brain occurs in 20%–40% of cancer patients.1 About 20% of these metastases are located in the posterior fossa, cerebellum, and brainstem. Metastatic disease to periventricular brain tissue can obstruct the flow of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) produced in the ventricles to the subarachnoid space where it is normally absorbed by arachnoid granulations. This typically causes an obstructive or non-communication hydrocephalus. A shunt has been customarily placed to drain CSF from a lateral ventricle through a pressure regulating valve and into the atrium or peritoneal or pleural cavity. Even though this technique has been successful in relieving the hydrocephalus, it has about a 50% chance of infection or failure from blockage.2

Another option for the treatment of obstructive hydrocephalus is third ventriculostomy, a minimal invasive endoscopic neurosurgical procedure. In performing third ventriculostomy, a hole is created in the floor of the third ventricle, allowing CSF inside the ventricle to drain out to the CSF space surrounding the brain. Although third ventriculostomy has a low operative morbidity and a high probability of success in secondary hydrocephalus, it is only commonly used on patients with aqueductal stenosis and the pediatric population. To avoid placing shunts in patients with inoperable metastatic brain tumours who typically have only a few months to live, we have offered the patients third ventriculostomy as a palliative procedure.

We performed third ventriculostomy on seven patients with hydrocephalus due to metastatic tumours of the posterior fossa or thalamus. They typically presented with symptoms of acute hydrocephalus in addition to any local mass effect of the tumour. Postoperatively, five patients were relieved of hydrocephalic symptoms and follow up brain imaging studies disclosed decreased ventricular size. These five patients had a median hospital time of 6.5 days and median survival of 9.5 weeks after the operation (table). Their hospital stay was prolonged by care of their primary disease. However, most of our patients who underwent this operation for hydrocephalus caused by other diseases were discharged from the hospital between 24 and 48 hours from the procedure. There were no operative complications. All five patients had no evidence of redevelopment of hydrocephalus up to the last clinic visit.

Two patients had unsuccessful results from their third ventriculostomy. One patient (case 4) showed no change from his initial neurological exam after the procedure, but his mental status deteriorated on post operative day 6. Brain CT showed no change in the size of his ventricles compared with the scan obtained on the day of admission. The patient’s family requested comfort care only and the patient died 2 days later. In the second case (case 6) the patient had improvement in his neurological examination and ventricle size by CT scan immediately after the operation, but had recurrent symptoms of hydrocephalus 11 days later. After placement of a ventriculoperitoneal shunt, his examination returned to baseline.

Every patient except the person described in pase 4 received brain radiation therapy after the palliative procedure. One patient (case 3) underwent a course of radiation treatment prior to the operation. Another (case 5) had radiation to her orbit in the distant past after enucleation for retinoblastoma. Even though previous radiotherapy may be considered a contraindication for third ventriculostomy by some authors, it did not seem to affect the success of third ventriculostomy in our patients. Carcinomatous meningitis which could have caused a concomitant communicating hydrocephalus was not grossly evident on examination, on any of the brain imagings, or during endoscopy. However, tumours in contact with CSF space can also cause a communicating hydrocephalus by raising CSF protein which can obstruct distal CSF space and arachnoid granulations.

Our success rate of about 70% (five of seven) for third ventriculostomy in periventricular metastatic disease is consistent with the results obtained with third ventriculostomy for adult patients with secondary hydrocephalus.3 This is comparable with the alternative shunting with an implanted catheter which has a first year revision rate as high as 50%, with the highest failure rate in the first few months after shunt placement.2 The complication rates for both procedures are low. Third ventriculostomy and shunting can potentially cause a stroke, bleeding, ventriculitis, meningitis, a subdural haematoma, CSF leak, diabetes insipidus, and SIADH. However shunting has additional risks of mechanical malfunction, complications associated with implanting a foreign body, and overdrainage syndrome.4

Because third ventriculostomy restores near normal CSF dynamics,5 overdrainage is prevented. The procedure is also minimally invasive and safe. The procedure’s low morbidity, high efficacy, and potentially short hospital stay are well suited as a palliative treatment of hydrocephalus for patients with an expected shortened life span. We propose that third ventriculostomy should be offered as a first treatment to patients suffering from obstructive hydrocephalus from unresectable tumours.


Table 1

Clinical characteristics of patients who underwent third ventriculostomy for obstructive hydrocephalus

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