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Acoustic Neuroma Gamma Knife vs Surgery Side Effects & Risks: A Guide

Wherever you are in the treatment planning process, learning more about your acoustic neuroma and treatment options is a great way to play a more active role in your care. Gamma Knife radiosurgery is an excellent treatment option for many patients with acoustic neuroma, but you may be unfamiliar with the technology. The following information will help you better understand more about acoustic neuroma Gamma Knife vs surgery including side effects.

About Your Acoustic Neuroma

Before discussing Gamma Knife radiosurgery, it can be helpful to have a basic understanding of your condition. An acoustic neuroma is a benign tumor that develops from cells surrounding the vestibulocochlear nerve, the cranial nerve related to hearing and balance. That accounts for the symptoms you may be experiencing, such as vertigo and/or hearing loss. Acoustic neuromas are usually diagnosed in patients 30-60 years old and typically affect only one side, although bilateral acoustic neuromas are possible.

Though your acoustic neuroma is benign, it can still grow and press on other structures, leading to symptoms and potential damage. Sometimes, if your acoustic neuroma is very small and not causing symptoms, your doctor may recommend carefully monitoring any changes. However, when an acoustic neuroma is large enough to cause problems, your doctor will likely recommend treatment, such as surgery or Gamma Knife radiosurgery.

Gamma Knife Radiosurgery and Your Acoustic Neuroma

Though it sounds like a surgical procedure, Gamma Knife radiosurgery is an advanced radiation therapy used to treat acoustic neuromas. During the procedure, your tumor will be treated with nearly 200 individual beams of low-dose radiation, targeting an area as precise as a single human hair. That means your doctor can treat just your tumor, shrinking the tumor cells while sparing nearby healthy tissues.

Your doctor might recommend Gamma Knife radiosurgery to treat your acoustic neuroma if:

  • You prefer a minimally invasive treatment approach
  • You are not a good surgical candidate due to other health conditions or advanced age
  • Your acoustic neuroma is in an area difficult to access with surgery
  • Your acoustic neuroma is small but has shown growth on MRI
  • Your doctor removed a large portion of your tumor via surgery but you require follow-up therapy to shrink any remaining tumor cells
 

As far as the procedure itself, Gamma Knife radiosurgery takes place in an outpatient setting and does not require a hospital stay. There are no incisions, no stitches and you will be awake throughout the procedure. Most patients return to work and other activities within a day or two. Generally speaking, you can expect to undergo between 1-5 sessions, though many patients only require a single treatment.

Gamma Knife Acoustic Neuroma Side Effects

Before any medical procedure, your doctor will discuss any risks or side effects with you. It’s important to understand that your doctor also considers risks and side effects during the treatment planning process and will only recommend a treatment if the benefits outweigh the risks. However, being aware of these risks is an important part of informed consent and eliminates the element of surprise, should you experience side effects.

Some of the potential side effects are due to the nature of radiation therapy. However, these effects tend to be milder than those commonly associated with traditional radiotherapy treatment and are often manageable using prescription medications. These include nausea, fatigue, and headaches, discomfort and hair loss (which is much less common with gamma knife) at the administration site. Sometimes patients experience itching, pain and swelling at the areas where the stabilizing headframe is attached to the scalp, but these effects are transient and last only a couple of days.

Because every patient is different, your doctor will discuss all the acoustic neuroma Gamma Knife vs surgery side effects and risks that they took into consideration before recommending Gamma Knife radiosurgery to you. Again, you can rest assured that your doctor would never recommend any form of treatment if the benefit were not greater than the risk.

Communicate with Your Personal Doctor

As you learn more about your condition and treatment options, it’s vital that you communicate openly with your personal doctor about any concerns you may have. They are the best person to answer questions specific to your individual condition and fully know your tumor and specific health factors. Continue learning more on your own to help develop your peace of mind, but carry your knowledge and questions into a discussion with your personal doctor about the Gamma Knife acoustic neuroma risk factors most pertinent to you.

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