BACKGROUND Cerebral arteriovenous malformation (AVM) is a common vascular disease in neurosurgery, and the indication for alternative treatments remains controversial. In a review of a series of 2086 patients with AVMs, the clinical characteristics and surgical results were assessed. METHODS Collected data of 2086 consecutive patients with AVMs from January 1956 to October 2001 were analyzed. All patients were divided into 2 groups: traditional surgery group (from 1956 to 1991) and microsurgery group (from 1992 to 2001). The variables assessed for clinical characteristics in our study included age (at presentation), sex, Spetzler-Martin grade, and first presentations. Surgical complications were assessed between different surgery groups by chi(2) test. RESULTS Cerebral AVMs are more commonly diagnosed at age of 20 to 40 years, which comprises almost one half of the whole population. The size of the AVMs ranged from 1 to 9 cm. There were 77 cases of giant AVMs in this series that were treated by a combination of surgical resection and intraoperative embolization. Hemorrhage (43.4%), headache (24.9%), and seizure (17.3%) were the first 3 common presentations. Regarding Spetzler-Martin grading system, the percentage of grade 3 to 5 patients increased, whereas that of grade 1 patients decreased in the microsurgery group (P = .00). However, compared with the traditional surgery group, the incidence of main surgical complications (death, hemiparalysis, cranial nerve dysfunction, and gastrointestinal hemorrhage) decreased significantly in the microsurgery group (P = .00). Although the incidence of main surgical complications had no statistical difference between early (from 1992 to 1996) and late microsurgery subgroup (from 1997 to 2001) (P = .796), the incidence really decreased with increase of higher-grading patients (grade 3-5) in the late microsurgery group (P = .00). CONCLUSIONS Cerebral AVM is one of the important reasons for spontaneous intracranial hemorrhage in patients younger than 40. Spetzler-Martin grading system is helpful to predict the surgical risk. Microsurgical technique has made surgical treatment safer and become the best choice for patients with cerebral AVM.