The natural history and management of petrous apex cholesterol granulomas

Alex D. Sweeney, L. Mariel Osetinsky, Matthew L. Carlson, Carla V. Valenzuela, Christopher D. Frisch, James L. Netterville, Michael J. Link, Colin L.W. Driscoll, David S. Haynes

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Objective: To evaluate the clinical and radiographic characteristics of cholesterol granulomas of the petrous apex, as well as the outcomes of operative and conservative management. Study Design: Retrospective chart review. Setting: Two independent tertiary academic referral centers. Patients: Adult and pediatric patients with cholesterol granulomas of the petrous apex were identified from the experience of two separate centers. Patients were included after radiographic diagnosis and clinical evaluation. All patients with less than 6 months of follow-up and those with iatrogenic postoperative cholesterol granulomas were excluded. Intervention: Demographic information, presenting symptoms, imaging characteristics, treatment strategies, and outcomes were recorded. Main Outcome Measures: Patients were evaluated on the basis of symptom and radiographic evolution during time, with or without operative intervention. Results: Ninety petrous apex cholesterol granulomas were analyzed (57.8% females, 55.6% right-sided). The average age at presentation was 43.1 years (median 42.0, range 8.0-77.0 years). The most common presenting symptom was headache (56.7%), and the average lesion size in the greatest dimension was 2.1cm (median 1.7, range 0.7-5.0cm). During a mean follow-up of 46.0 months, no cases of spontaneous rupture or carotid injury occurred. Twenty-three patients (25.6%) ultimately underwent surgical management, most commonly for intractable headache, and only 47.8% of these patients experienced durable symptom improvement by their last postoperative follow-up. Conclusion: Many cholesterol granulomas of the petrous apex remain stable during time and can be safely managed with primary observation. Surgery should be reserved for lesions that are causing, or threatening, neurologic dysfunction because of mass effect or erosion of critical structures such as the otic capsule. Cranial neuropathy associated with cholesterol granuloma may improve after operative management; however, symptoms such as headache and dizziness are less likely to benefit from surgery. As a general guideline, in the presence of a radiologically stable cholesterol granuloma in the petrous apex, alternative etiologies for headache and dizziness should be considered and treated before offering surgical intervention.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1714-1719
Number of pages6
JournalOtology and Neurotology
Issue number10
StatePublished - Dec 1 2015


  • Cholesterol granuloma
  • Petrous apex
  • Skull base
  • Temporal bone

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Otorhinolaryngology
  • Sensory Systems
  • Clinical Neurology


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