Cerebral cavernous venous malformation

Cerebral cavernous venous malformations, commonly known as cavernous hemangioma or cavernoma, are common cerebral vascular malformations, usually with characteristic appearances on MRI. 

Cavernous malformations are found throughout the body. This article focuses on cerebral cavernous venous malformations. For a general discussion and links to cavernomas in other locations, please refer to the general article on cavernous venous malformation.

Many alternative terms have been used over the years including cavernous hemangioma, cerebral cavernous malformation or simply cavernoma. As these lesions are not neoplastic, it has been argued that the terms 'hemangioma' and 'cavernoma' should be avoided. Additionally, it is important to note that according to newer nomenclature (ISSVA classification of vascular anomalies) these lesions are merely known as slow flow venous malformations.

Having said all that, it is probably helpful in reports to include the word 'cavernous' as this term is ubiquitous in the literature and most familiar to many clinicians. 

For brevity, the term cavernous malformation is used in the remainder of this article. 

Most patients who present symptomatically do so at 40-60 years of age. Most patients have single lesions. Multiple lesions may be familial and screening of family members may be indicated (see familial multiple cavernous malformation syndrome). Additionally, cavernous malformations, along with capillary telangiectasias, are commonly seen following cerebral radiotherapy 3.

The majority of lesions remain asymptomatic throughout life and are found incidentally. Presentation due to hemorrhage may cause a headache, seizure or focal neurological deficit. The risk of hemorrhage is 1% per year for familial cases and somewhat less for sporadic lesions.

Histologically cavernous malformations are composed of a "mulberry-like" cluster of hyalinized dilated thin-walled capillaries, with surrounding hemosiderin 3. These vessels are thrombosed to varying degrees. Unlike AVMs, there is no normal brain between the interstices of these lesions. 

On occasion, they are intimately associated with a developmental venous anomaly (DVA), in which case they are known as mixed vascular malformation.

Cerebral cavernomas tend to be supratentorial (~80% cases) but can be found anywhere including the brainstem. They are usually solitary, although up to one-third of patients with sporadic lesions have more than one 2.

Unless large, these lesions are difficult to see on CT. They do not enhance. If large then a region of hyperdensity can be seen. If there has been a recent bleed then it is more conspicuous and may be surrounded by a mantle of edema. 

MRI is the modality of choice, demonstrating a characteristic “popcorn” or "berry" appearance with a rim of signal loss due to hemosiderin, which demonstrates prominent blooming on susceptibility weighted sequences. 

T1 and T2 signal is varied internally depending on the age of the blood products and small fluid-fluid levels may be evident.

Gradient echo or T2* sequences are able to delineate these lesions better than T1 or T2 weighted images. In patients with familial or multiple cavernous angiomas GRE T2* sequences are very important in identifying the number of lesions missed by conventional Spin echo sequences.

Susceptibility weighted imaging (SWI) may have sensitivity equal to that of GRE in detecting these capillary telangiectasias in the brain. SWI is also highly sensitive in detecting calcification as compared to T1 and T2 images 6.

If a recent bleed has occurred then surrounding edema may be present.

The lesions generally do not enhance, although enhancement is possible 7.

Cavernous malformations can be grouped into four types based on MRI appearances using the Zabramski classification 11.

Cavernous malformations are angiographically occult and do not demonstrate arteriovenous shunting. 

Many cavernous malformations are asymptomatic and can be treated conservatively. Symptoms can relate to mass effect, epileptic activity or repeated hemorrhage. Symptomatic lesions should, when possible, be resected and complete resection is curative 9

The differential, when cavernous venous malformations are numerous, is that of other causes of cerebral microhemorrhages, including 2:

Larger lesions can mimic:  

Calcified lesions, such as old neurocysticercosis, or other infections (e.g. tuberculoma) should also be considered. 

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Article information

rID: 1064
Synonyms or Alternate Spellings:
  • Cerebral cavernous malformations
  • Cerebral cavernous malformation
  • Cerebral cavernoma
  • Cavernous haemangioma of brain
  • Cerebral cavernous haemangioma
  • Cerebral cavernous hemangioma
  • Cavernous hemangioma of brain
  • Cerebral cavernomas
  • Cerebral cavernous haemangiomas
  • Cerebral cavernous hemangiomas
  • Cavernous hemangiomas of brain
  • Cavernous hemangiomas of the brain
  • Cavernous haemangiomas of brain
  • Cavernous haemangiomas of the brain
  • Cerebral cavernous malformation

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Cases and figures

  • T2WI Fast spin echo
    Case 1
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  • Case 2: cerebellar -with associated DVA
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  • Case 3: on MERGE sequence
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  • Case 4: multiple cerebral cavernous malformations
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  • Case 5: multiple
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  • Case 6
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  • Case 7: on CT
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  • Case 8: multiple on GRE
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  • Case 9
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  • Case 10: involving corpus callosum
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  • Case 11
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  • Case 15
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  • Case 16
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  • Case 17: with recent hemorrhage
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  • Case 18: in pineal region
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  • Case 19
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  • Interval CT showi...
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  • Case 22
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  • Case 23
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  • Case 24: involving brainstem
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  • Case 25: multiple
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  • Case 26
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  • Case 27
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  • Case 28
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  • Case 29: popcorn appearance
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  • Case 31
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  • Case 32
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  • Case 33: pontine cavernoma
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