Thanks to sophisticated imaging technology, such as magnetic resonance imaging, many children with drug resistant epilepsy who previously did not have a known cause are now discovered to have small structural abnormalities, or lesions, that cause their epilepsy. A lesion is a damaged or abnormally functioning area of the brain. Lesions are typically small and can include scars from head injury or infection, as well as brain tumors, abnormal blood vessels, or swollen areas of blood called hematomas.

What is lesionectomy surgery?

A lesionectomy is a surgical procedure that removes a relatively small brain abnormality that causes seizures. The traditional surgical method is to open part of the skull (known as a craniotomy) and then remove the lesion using surgical tools.

Less invasive methods (known as minimally invasive epilepsy surgery) are now in use. In these procedures, access to the brain is made by using thin probes guided by MRI, with smaller craniotomies called “keyhole” craniotomies, or through small burr holes in the skull. Then an endoscope and laser are used to burn or remove the lesion. 

What are the different types of lesions?

Lesions are classified as either congenital or acquired.

Congenital lesions include brain malformations that the child develops before birth, such as:

Acquired lesions include brain malformations that the child develops after birth, such as:

Who benefits from lesionectomy surgery?

Lesionectomy may be an option for children whose epilepsy is linked to a defined lesion and whose seizures are drug resistant. In addition, it must be possible to remove the lesion and surrounding tissue without causing damage to areas of the brain responsible for vital functions, such as movement, sensation, language, and memory. 

Lesionectomy vs. lobectomy:  How much should be removed?

There is some controversy regarding how much tissue should be removed during lesionectomy surgery.  The surgeon will want to remove as much as necessary to stop the seizures (and prevent worsening of any additional conditions, as is the case with tumors or vascular malformations).  At the same time, the surgeon will want to do as little as possible to prevent additional damage to the rest of the brain or do anything to harm the child’s functioning.

Often, removing the lesion and some of the surrounding tissue is enough to control the seizures.  Sometimes, removal of a significant amount of the tissue surrounding the lesion, including an entire lobe, may be necessary to gain seizure control.  

Goals of lesionectomy

Epilepsy surgery causes seizure freedom in about two thirds of patients with mesial temporal lobe epilepsy and in approximately one half of individuals with other causes of focal epilepsy. Seizure freedom is reported more often for some types of lesions such as vascular malformation and glioneuronal tumor than others such as glioma.

In general, seizure freedom is more likely among children with a lesion on MRI (81%) or in histopathologic (73%) findings (looking at the tissue removed surgically under a microscope) compared to children with epilepsy that is not associated with a lesion (45%-46%).

What if they don’t take enough?

While it is tempting to push for the neurosurgeon to take the least amount of tissue possible, not taking out the entire lesion reduces the chances that your child will be seizure free, and potentially increases other risks in the case of vascular malformation or brain tumor.  Not getting it all increases the risk of ongoing seizures, sometimes requiring another surgery, depending on the underlying cause. For example, there could be an area called epileptogenic cortex separate from the lesion that is causing seizures, postoperative scar tissue that causes seizures, or inadequate removal of the lesion the first time.  The epileptogenic cortex is an area of normal tissue separate from the original lesion that becomes prone to seizures due to being near the seizures caused by the lesion.  This concept is also called “kindling”, and is not as well understood in humans as it is in animal models.  In order to be certain about how much of the tissue surrounding a lesion to remove, many centers use subdural grids, or invasive EEG techniques, to guide their decision.

For all types of lesions, gross total resection (which means removing the entire lesion) may prove to be difficult with a lesion involving eloquent brain (parts of the brain that control speech, motor functions, and senses) or located in a region that is difficult to access.  There are tools such as direct cortical stimulation for invasive mapping of eloquent brain that can improve the chances of safely removing the entire seizure-causing lesion. 


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