Gamma Knife Acoustic Neuroma 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. That’s why the following information is designed to help you better understand more about Gamma Knife radiosurgery as a treatment option, including Gamma Knife acoustic neuroma 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. This accounts for the symptoms that 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 careful monitoring of 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 actually an advanced form of radiation therapy that can be used to treat your acoustic neuroma. 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. This means your doctor can treat just your tumor, shrinking the tumor cells while sparing healthy nearby 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 through the entire 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 takes all of these into consideration 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 can often be managed using prescription medications. These include nausea, fatigue and headaches, as well as 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 sites where the stabilizing headframe is attached to the scalp, but these effects are transient and last only a couple days.

Because every patient is different, your doctor will discuss all the Gamma Knife acoustic neuroma side effects and risks that he or she 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 was not greater than the risk.

Communicate with Your Personal Doctor

As you learn more about your condition and treatment options, it’s of vital importance that you communicate openly with your own personal doctor about any concerns you may have. He or she is the best person to answer questions specific to your individual condition and with full knowledge of your tumor and specific health factors. Continue learning more on your own to help develop your own 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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