Current trends in the detection and management of carotid body tumors

A. Westerban, H. C. Hunter, I. Cintora, S. W. Coulthard, M. L. Hinni, A. T. Gentile, J. Devine, J. L. Mills, R. B. Dilley, A. Westerb, T. Ramos

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

107 Scopus citations


Purpose: Because the natural history of carotid body tumors is believed to be unpredictable, immediate surgical removal has been recommended. The present study reviews our experience in the diagnosis and treatment of these uncommon lesions. Methods: The medical records of patients who appeared for treatment with carotid body tumors between 1981 and 1997 were reviewed. Patients demographics, mode of presentation, imaging and treatment modalities, Shamblin classification, and neurologic complications (stroke, cranial nerve injuries) were analyzed. Results: Over the past 16 years, 31 patients with 32 carotid body tumors have been evaluated, with an average follow-up of 3.2 years. The patients were arbitrarily classified into two groups on the basis of the mode of detection. Seventy percent (23 of 32) of the tumors discovered on clinical or self-examination were classified as Group 1; 28% (9 of 32) of the tumors detected during duplex scanning for carotid artery disease (8) or MRI (1) were classified as Group 2. The mean size of chemodectomas found on palpation (4.3 ± 1.7 cm) was larger than that of those detected by duplex ultrasound (2.7 ± 1.0 cm; p < 0.05, by paired t test). Preoperative embolization was successfully performed in 5 of 6 instances of large tumors; the remaining patient suffered a procedure- related stroke. Thirty-one carotid body tumors were resected. In one case, the tumor was felt by the primary surgeon to be too small (0.9 x 0.7 cm on duplex scan) to warrant immediate excision; this patient is being followed by periodic duplex scanning. Five neurologic complications were noted in Group 1, one after preoperative embolization and four after surgery. One cranial nerve injury occurred in Group 2. One patient had a large recurrent chemodectoma with clinical evidence of metastatic disease. Conclusion: The increasing use of sophisticated imaging modalities may allow earlier discovery of carotid body tumors before they can be clinically detected. Resection of carotid body tumors of all sizes in appropriate surgical candidates remains the standard of care. Unfortunately, resection of even small tumors is associated with a low but constant incidence of neurologic complications.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)84-93
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of vascular surgery
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1998

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surgery
  • Cardiology and Cardiovascular Medicine


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