Preoperative diagnosis of vagal and sympathetic cervical schwannomas based on radiographic findings

Christopher S. Graffeo, Kathryn M. Van Abel, Jonathan M. Morris, Matthew L. Carlson, Jamie J. Van Gompel, Eric J. Moore, Daniel L. Price, Jan L. Kasperbauer, Jeffrey R. Janus, Kerry D. Olsen, Michael J. Link

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


OBJECTIVE: Vagus nerve and sympathetic chain cervical schwannomas (VNCSs and SCCSs) are benign nerve sheath tumors that arise in the head and neck. Despite similar presentations that make accurate preoperative diagnosis more difficult, the potential for morbidity following resection is significantly higher for patients with VNCS. Therefore, the authors analyzed a retrospective case series and performed a comparative analysis of the literature to establish diagnostic criteria to facilitate more accurate preoperative diagnoses. METHODS: The authors conducted a blinded review of imaging studies from retrospectively collected, operatively confirmed cases of VNCS and SCCS. They also performed a systematic review of published series that reported patientspecific preoperative imaging findings in VNCS or SCCS. RES U LTS Nine patients with VNCS and 11 with SCCS were identified. In the study cohort, splaying of the internal carotid artery (ICA) and internal jugular vein (IJV) did not significantly predict the nerve of origin (p = 0.06); however, medial and lateral ICA displacement were significantly associated with VNCS and SCCS, respectively (p = 0.01 and p = 0.003, respectively). Multivariate analysis demonstrated that ICA and IJV splaying with medial ICA displacement carried an 86% probability of VNCS (p = 0.001), while the absence of splaying with lateral ICA displacement carried a 91% probability of SCCS (p = 0.006). The presence of vocal cord symptoms or peripheral enhancement significantly augmented the predictive probability of VNCS, as did Horner's syndrome or homogeneous enhancement for SCCS. A review of the literature produced 25 publications that incorporated a total of 106 patients, including the present series. Splaying of the ICA and IJV was significantly, but not uniquely, associated with VNCS (p < 0.0001); multivariate analysis demonstrated that ICA and IJV splaying with medial ICA displacement carries a 75% probability of VNCS (p < 0.0001), while the absence of such splaying with lateral ICA displacement carries an 87% probability of SCCS (p = 0.0003). CONCLUSIONS: ICA and IJV splaying frequently predicts VNCS; however, this finding is also commonly observed in SCCS and, among the 9 cases in the present study, was observed more often than previously reported. When congruent with splaying, medial or lateral ICA displacement significantly enhances the reliability of preoperative predictions, empowering more accurate prognostication.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)690-697
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of neurosurgery
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2017


  • CT scan
  • Cervical sympathetic schwannoma
  • Imaging
  • MRI
  • Oncology
  • Radiology
  • Vagal schwannoma

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surgery
  • Clinical Neurology


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