The name Gamma Knife is a bit of a misnomer; there is no blade or cutting involved. Instead, this radiosurgery treatment uses a concentrated dose of gamma radiation to combat a tumor or other malformation in the brain.
When Is Gamma Knife Radiosurgery Done?
Gamma Knife radiosurgery is a noninvasive alternative to traditional brain surgery for many patients. It is performed when neurosurgery is not a viable option, such as when a tumor in the brain is difficult to reach, or a patient isn’t healthy enough for standard surgery due to illness or advanced age. It is considered safe and reliable, and because there are no surgical incisions involved, the risk of complications or side effects is greatly reduced. Gamma Knife radiosurgery is commonly used to treat the following:
- Small benign or malignant brain tumors
- Acoustic neuromas
- Pituitary adenomas
- Vascular malformations such as arteriovenous malformations
- Nerve disorders such as trigeminal neuralgia
- Obsessive-compulsive disorders
What Does the Procedure Entail?
Most of the time, Gamma Knife radiosurgery is an outpatient procedure, though in some instances an overnight hospital stay may be recommended. A lightweight stabilizing frame is attached to the patient’s head with a set of pins, and imaging scans of the brain are made to show the tumor’s location. The surgical team will consult the scans to plan a strategy for the procedure. Once a treatment plan is developed, the patient will lie down on a bed that is placed beneath the Gamma Knife machine. There, preprogrammed beams of radiation are focused on the lesion or malformation. While the targeted tissue receives a significant dose of radiation, surrounding tissue is basically untouched. The patient remains awake throughout the procedure, and is able to communicate with the surgeons. There is little discomfort, and no risk of bleeding or infection.
Treatment results take time, but are usually effective. Most tumors will gradually decrease in size and may disappear completely. Pain and tremors associated with other disorders are often reduced or eliminated, as well.