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Malignant spinal cord astrocytomas are rare tumors and their specific MR characteristics have not been previously described. We present a detailed MR analysis of four children with malignant astrocytoma.
A review of the clinical database at the Hospital for Sick Children, Toronto revealed four patients with histologically-verified malignant spinal cord astrocytomas (WHO Grade 3 or 4) with pre-operative MR available for retrospective review.
There were three boys and one girl with a mean age at presentation of four years (range 7 months - 12 years). Mean duration of symptoms prior to presentation was six weeks (range 3 days - 5 months). Pre-operative MR analysis revealed that all tumors were located in the cervical or cervico-thoracic regions and expanded the cord over an average of 6.5 vertebral levels. The signal was usually hypointense on T1-weighted and hyperintense or mixed intensity on T2-weighted images. In the three cases where gadolinium was given, all demonstrated enhancement (one rim enhancement with a discrete border and two with inhomogeneous central enhancement). One tumor appeared to be exophytic, one had a significant cystic component, and none showed evidence of hemorrhage. Pre-operative leptomeningeal spread of tumor was documented in two of four cases and involved intracranial spread in both cases.
There did not appear to be any specific MR characteristics to help differentiate a malignant astrocytoma from a low-grade tumor, except for the high rate of leptomeningeal spread at presentation. It is recommended that full neuraxis MR imaging be performed pre-operatively in children in whom a rapidly progressive clinical course suggests a malignant lesion. This will likely have a high positive yield and provide valuable information prior to surgical intervention.
One of the difficulties with lumboperitoneal (LP) shunts has been non-invasively ascertaining shunt function. It has been previously reported that in the presence of a functioning LP shunt the perimesencephalic cisterns become obliterated – the “absent cistern sign”. In order to more rigorously test this association we performed a retrospective analysis of LP shunt patients at the Hospital for Sick Children, Toronto.
The CT scans of all patients undergoing LP shunting over a 17 year period were reviewed. The “absent cistern sign” and ventricular size were compared against the results of either an isotope shunt study or surgical findings performed within 2 days of the CT.
There were 38 CT scans (27 patients) performed within 2 days of an isotope shunt study and 15 CT scans (14 patients) performed within 2 days of a surgical intervention. These results give the absent cistern sign a sensitivity of 75% and a specificity of 57% when compared to the shunt isotope findings and a sensitivity of 100% and a specificity of 50% when compared to the surgical findings. Over 30% of the CT scans showed ventriculomegaly in the presence of a functioning shunt and, conversely, nearly 45% of the CT scans had normal or small lateral ventricles in the presence of a malfunctioning shunt.
The “absent cistern sign” appears to reliably rule out a completely blocked shunt, but is less reliable in detecting a normal or partially obstructed shunt. Ventricular size correlates poorly with LP shunt function.
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