As Gamma Knife radiosurgery is becoming a favored treatment option for many conditions, many patients are looking for more information about the procedure, technology and how the entire process works. One question patients often ask is, “Can Gamma Knife be repeated?” To help answer this question, as well as others you may have, the following information will explain more about it in general, how the procedure is performed and the conditions it can be used to treat.
It is important to keep in mind that all patients are different, and your doctor will develop a treatment plan and make recommendations based on your individual condition. However, it can be helpful to have a general understanding as it applies to most patients, which you can then carry forward to a conversation with your personal doctor about your distinct case.
Overview of Gamma Knife
Gamma Knife is not a type of surgery and does not involve a scalpel, despite its name. Instead, it is a form of stereotactic radiosurgery, a highly specific form of radiation therapy. Using approximately 200 individual beams, Gamma Knife can be used to treat a targeted area, sparing healthy surrounding tissues. As a result, patients typically experience fewer of the unpleasant side effects commonly associated with radiation therapy.
For many patients, Gamma Knife is an excellent alternative to traditional surgery. Because the procedure is relatively noninvasive, there are none of the risks associated with general surgery or anesthesia. You can also expect less pain, less activity restrictions and a shorter recovery time as compared to general surgery.
Can Gamma Knife Be Repeated?
Gamma Knife can be, and often is, repeated if a doctor determines that multiple sessions are necessary. Sometimes the area to be treated is very large or deep within other structures, and it will take more than a single session to adequately treat the area. Your doctor will inform you during the treatment planning process approximately how many Gamma Knife treatments you can expect to undergo, although the final determination will depend on exactly how your condition responds to therapy.
You may also be wondering about whether Gamma Knife radiosurgery can be used in addition to other radiation treatments, such as whole-brain radiation therapy. Gamma Knife is an option for patients whose conditions have not responded to other radiation treatments or if those treatments have reached the maximum allowable radiation dose.
The reason Gamma Knife can be repeated is because of its highly focused nature. When you undergo this treatment, your doctor is able to limit radiation exposure to the surrounding tissues, decreasing the overall radiation burden on your body. This is also why you can expect to experience milder side effects following Gamma Knife radiosurgery as compared to other forms of radiation therapy.
There are many conditions that can be treated using Gamma Knife radiosurgery. Sometimes Gamma Knife is the only procedure required, but it can also be used as an adjunct therapy in combination with another approach, such as surgery. Some conditions commonly treated with Gamma Knife include:
- Acoustic neuroma
- Arteriovenous malformation
- Brain metastases
- Pineal tumors
- Pituitary tumors
- Skull base tumors
- Trigeminal neuralgia
- Vascular malformation
- Vestibular schwannoma
Gamma Knife procedures take place in an outpatient setting, either at a hospital or treatment center, and does not require an overnight stay.
At the beginning of your appointment, the doctor will place a head frame or custom mask over your head. The head frame is secured using four small pins that do not penetrate the skull. The head frame or mask will help keep you in the same position throughout the procedure, enabling your doctor to treat a very specific, highly focused area.
Next, your neurosurgeon and radiation oncologist will take a series of MRIs and review them to finalize the target area. When it is time to begin the actual treatment, you will be placed on a specialized table. You will be awake and able to communicate with your doctor the entire time, and the procedure will take approximately 15 minutes to one hour. When it is complete, your doctor will remove the head frame/mask and you will be released to go home within a few hours.
Your Individual Treatment Plan
At this point, you likely have a better understanding of the Gamma Knife technology and why it can be repeated when necessary. Your doctor will be able to discuss with you whether multiple sessions may be needed, their duration and what you can expect during your specific procedure.
If you find you still have questions regarding Gamma Knife or your individualized treatment plan, it can be helpful to write them down and take them into your next appointment. Discuss any concerns you have with your doctor, and he or she will be able to address them with you before you move into the treatment phase of your care. Setting your mind at ease early in the process will help you relax and be more comfortable on the day of your actual treatment.