Gamma Knife radiosurgery, a non-invasive treatment for brain tumors, vascular malformations and other disorders, does not involve a knife or even an incision at all. It is actually a highly focused, pinpoint-size beam of gamma radiation.
The extremely accurate delivery of a full dose of radiation at one time means tissues near the treatment area are not harmed. Also patients generally do not need ongoing treatment or experience the side effects of many other radiation therapies.
Decades of research and clinical data have proven this revolutionary procedure as safe and efficient. The University of Maryland Gamma Knife Center has been on the leading edge of that research.
What Gamma Knife Treats
Also called stereotactic radiosurgery, Gamma Knife is an alternative for many patients for whom traditional brain surgery is not the best option, either due to their overall health or the location of their tumor. Unlike invasive surgery, Gamma Knife can be used repeatedly over time if new brain tumors occur. It is used to treat:
- Tumors in which cancer has spread from another part of the body to the brain.
- Cancerous and non-cancerous tumors that start in the brain
- AVMs (arteriovenous malformations), or tangled blood vessels in the brain
- Acoustic neuroma, a skull base tumor on the nerve that connects the ear to the brain
- Pituitary tumors
- Some types of epilepsy
- Trigeminal neuralgia, which causes severe nerve pain of the face
Gamma Knife Surgery Information
From start to finish, the Gamma Knife surgery typically lasts about five hours. The actual treatment is frequently less than one hour.
Patients are fitted with a head frame that attaches at four points with pins that penetrates the skin a very small amount. A local anesthesia minimizes the discomfort. A MRI scan is used to locate the targeted abnormality. Following the MRL, patients move to the treatment area where they lay on a gantry or bed during the procedure.
Because Gamma Knife treatment is so effective, the majority of insurance plans cover it.
Risks and Side Effects of Gamma Knife
Gamma Knife removes the physical trauma and the majority of risks associated with open surgery.
The long- and short-term side effects of this procedure, if any, are minimal and transient. Some people may complain of a headache, which can be treated with over-the-counter analgesics. There is no hair loss, as with some treatments. Recovery time is usually immediate, or at most a few days with no need for extended rehabilitation.
Doctors may prescribe medication for swelling of the tumor.
In general, any radiosurgery can damage nearby healthy tissue. However, compared to other types of radiation, Gamma Knife treatment is much less likely to damage the surrounding tissue because it is highly focused.