What Is Gamma Knife? FAQs Answered

If your doctor has said that he or she would like you to undergo Gamma Knife treatment for your head or neck condition, you may be a little unsure about what exactly that means. The first thing most patients will wonder is, “what is Gamma Knife?” The following information will help you better understand what Gamma Knife is, along with other frequently asked questions, so you can be more comfortable with your upcoming procedure.

What Is Gamma Knife? The Technology

Gamma Knife is a form of stereotactic radiosurgery, a specialized type of radiation therapy that offers unique benefits over traditional radiation therapy. Despite its name, stereotactic radiosurgery is completely noninvasive and does not involve surgery or an incision. This can be confusing to some patients, which is why it is a great idea to learn more about your procedure beforehand.

The Gamma Knife system uses 192 individual beams of radiation, which are focused directly on the area of interest. Each individual beam contains only a low dose of radiation, but the additive effect is enough to deliver effective treatment. This is in contrast to other forms of radiation therapy, which treats a large area at once with a uniform high dose, affecting both healthy and unhealthy tissues and leading to many of the unpleasant side effects associated with radiation therapy.

Because it is noninvasive, Gamma Knife radiosurgery does not require a hospital stay and is typically completed in 15-75 minutes. Many patients can be treated in a single session. However, your treatment duration and frequency will depend on your personal case, including the size and location of the treatment area and your individual health factors.

What Is Gamma Knife? The Procedure

During your Gamma Knife procedure, you will be awake and aware of what is going on around you. Your care team will explain each step of the procedure, ensuring you are comfortable with your entire treatment.

At the beginning of your procedure, your doctor will either place a special frame over your head or a mask over your face. The frame will keep your head in the proper position throughout your treatment. If it is decided that the frame is better suited for your case it will be secured with four small pins, which hold the frame in place but do not enter the skull. You will be given anesthesia at the pin sites to ensure you do not feel any discomfort.

Once the frame is positioned correctly, your doctors will take and review several MRI images to determine the exact location of the area to be treated. When they have finalized your treatment plan, you will be placed on the treatment table, which simply moves into place so treatment can begin.

The duration of your treatment will depend on your individual condition, but most patients will be treated for 15 minutes to just over an hour. Once your treatment is complete, your doctor will remove the frame from your head and discuss any follow-up instructions and/or medications. Most patients are released to recover at home within two hours of the completion of treatment.

What Is Gamma Knife? Other Frequently Asked Questions

While your doctor is the best person to address questions regarding your personal condition and treatment plan, there are some frequently asked questions which will generally apply to most patients.

What Conditions Can Be Treated With Gamma Knife?

Generally speaking, Gamma Knife radiosurgery can be used to treat conditions of the head and neck, including brain tumors, vascular malformations and management of chronic pain. Potentially treatable conditions include:

  • Acoustic neuromas
  • Brain metastases
  • Craniopharyngiomas
  • Gliomas
  • Meningiomas
  • Pineal tumors
  • Skull base tumors
  • Vestibular schwannomas
  • Arteriovenous malformation
  • Trigeminal neuralgia
  • Vascular malformation

What Are the Benefits of Gamma Knife Over Other Radiation Therapy?

Because of its focused delivery system, Gamma Knife radiosurgery targets only the area of interest, sparing healthy surrounding tissues. This is in stark contrast to other radiation therapy, such as whole brain radiation therapy, which treats the entire brain, healthy and unhealthy tissues alike. As a result, Gamma Knife patients can expect:

  • Fewer treatment sessions
  • Less fatigue
  • Less nausea
  • Less hair loss
  • Fewer cognitive deficits

Read more about the differences between Gamma Knife vs. Cyberknife and Gamma Knife vs. proton therapy.

What Are Benefits of Gamma Knife Radiosurgery Over Traditional Surgery?

Some conditions can be treated with Gamma Knife radiosurgery as an alternative to traditional open surgery. When available, benefits of Gamma Knife over surgery include:

  • Less pain
  • None of the risks associated with surgery
  • No hospital stay required
  • It can be used as an adjunct to other treatments

How Many People Have Been Treated Using Gamma Knife Radiosurgery?

Over 1 million patients have been treated worldwide using Gamma Knife radiosurgery. It is quickly becoming the preferred treatment for many conditions because of its effectiveness, convenience and safety.

Continue the Discussion With Your Doctor

Now that you have a better understanding of Gamma Knife radiosurgery, chances are you have more confidence in your upcoming treatment. Should you have any lingering concerns, or even new questions, be sure to bring them up with your doctor at your next appointment.

Self-education and discussion is a fantastic way to play an active role in your treatment and can help give you peace of mind by helping you to better understand your procedure.

Anthony D’Ambrosio, M.D., M.B.A., F.A.A.N.S
Anthony D’Ambrosio, M.D., M.B.A., F.A.A.N.S
Dr. Anthony D’Ambrosio is a board-certified neurosurgeon that specializes in Neurosurgery, Stereotactic Radiosurgery, Gamma Knife Radiosurgery (GKRS) and more. He is the Director of Neurosurgery and Co-Director of the Gamma Knife Program at The Valley Hospital. Dr. D’Ambrosio is an expert in treating patients with trigeminal neuralgia, benign or malignant brain tumors, as well as many other neurological conditions.

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Patient liaisons explain Gamma Knife surgery cost, outcomes, etc.