Despite its name, the Gamma Knife is not a blade, knife, or scalpel. It is a remarkable piece of equipment that precisely and safely aims a high dose of radiation at brain tumors or malformations (lesions).
The Gamma Knife offers patients an alternative to traditional open-skull brain surgery or microsurgery that minimizes patient risk and physical trauma while accurately treating malformed brain tissue.
The technology behind the Gamma Knife is a blend of engineering and physics. The Gamma Knife directs photon radiation from up to 201 sources to a single target. The beams of radiation are coordinated to intersect into one intense beam that focuses on the target tissue. The target can be quite small, from several millimeters to three centimeters in diameter. The effects to tissues surrounding the tumor or malformation are minimal.
The Gamma Knife is also called stereotactic radiosurgery or radiosurgery, because it uses a stereotactic frame (technology that allows the surgeon to position the patient’s head very precisely) and radiation. The rigid stereotactic frame is fixed to the patient’s skull to immobilize the head and is used to precisely locate the brain tumor or malformation. Patients experience little discomfort and the treatment session may last from 10 to 40 minutes. Every aspect of the procedure is customized to meet the patient’s needs.
Conditions Treated Using the Gamma Knife
Gamma Knife technology can be used to treat a variety of conditions, including:
- Benign (non-cancer) and malignant (cancer) tumors within the skull, such as acoustic neuromas, pituitary adenomas, pinealomas, craniopharynigiomas, meningiomas, chordomas, chondrosarcomas, and glial tumors.
- Abnormal vascular formations (artery, vein), which includes arteriovenous malformations or AVMs.
- Trigeminal Neuralgia
When treating a tumor or lesion, the Gamma Knife does not remove the tumor or lesion. Instead, the treatment disrupts the tumor’s DNA, which interferes with the tumor’s ability to survive. Radiation treatments are designed to stop the growth of the tumor or lesion, so the effects are usually seen over a period of weeks or months. Your doctor will monitor your progress.
Advantages and Benefits
The Gamma Knife is a non-invasive and non-surgical treatment that eliminates the physical trauma and many of the risks associated with conventional open brain surgery. Complications from traditional surgery may include infection, spinal fluid leakage, bleeding, nerve dysfunction, and heart or lung problems.
- The Gamma Knife’s accuracy helps to preserve tissues surrounding the target area.
- For some patients, traditional open-skull or microscopic brain surgery is not an option. This may include patients who are too ill or elderly for surgery, or who are being treated for a recurrent or residual tumor.
- Some tumors or lesions are inoperable, meaning they cannot be treated using open-skull or microscopic brain surgery. The Gamma Knife may be used to treat these disorders.
- Complications from general anesthesia are avoided, as the patient only needs mild sedation.
- Most patients only need to stay overnight in the hospital following treatment.
- Rarely does nausea, vomiting, or headache occur following treatment.
If you would like more information about the Gamma Knife, or the conditions it treats, please contact Georgia Spine & Neurosurgery Center or click this link, which will take you to the St. Joseph’s Gamma Knife information page. We will be pleased to answer your questions about this safe and effective non-surgical approach to treating brain disorders.