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This non-invasive treatment for brain tumors and disorders does not involve a knife or even an incision at all. Gamma Knife radiosurgery is actually a highly focused, pinpoint-size beam of gamma radiation.
The extremely accurate delivery of a full dose 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. And 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 an option, either due to their overall health or the location of their tumor. It is used to treat:
- Brain 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 of the nerve that connects the ear to the brain
- Pituitary gland tumors
- Some types of epilepsy
- Trigeminal neuralgia, which causes severe nerve pain of the face
- Severe tremors due to essential tremor or Parkinson's disease
Gamma Knife Information for Patients
From start to finish, the Gamma Knife procedure typically lasts three to five hours.
Patients are fitted with a head frame that attaches at four points with pins that penetrate about 2 millimeters. A local anesthesia minimizes the discomfort. MRI then shows the precise treatment location. At this point, patients move to the treatment area where they sit on a couch during the procedure.
Because the positive results of Gamma Knife treatment occur slowly over time, periodic brain imaging studies are taken of tumors. With AVMs, imaging can confirm the results more quickly.
Risks and Side Effects of Gamma Knife
There have been no mortalities directly attributed to the Gamma Knife during its operation worldwide.
The side effects of this procedure, if any, are minimal and transient. Some people may complain of a headache, which can be treated with aspirin. There is no loss of hair or nausea, as with some treatments. Recovery time is usually a few days with no need for extended rehabilitation.
Brain swelling can occur but typically goes away without treatment. Doctors may prescribe medication for the swelling, and in rare cases, open surgery is needed to treat the brain swelling.
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 area.
Gamma Knife removes the physical trauma and the majority of risks associated with open surgery. Also as an outpatient procedure, it costs as much as 50 percent less than open surgery. Because Gamma Knife treatment is so effective, the majority of insurance plans cover it.