Though most doctors will favor Gamma Knife radiosurgery to traditional surgery for many of their patients, those same patients are often unfamiliar with Gamma Knife technology and what the procedure is like.
Self-education is a great tool to set your mind at ease as your treatment date approaches, allowing you to focus your energy on other things. The following information will help you learn more about Gamma Knife, including how it works, what to expect and the Gamma Knife head frame used during the procedure.
Overview of Gamma Knife
Gamma Knife Radiosurgery, despite its name, is not a surgical procedure at all. Rather, it is an advanced form of radiation therapy that does not involve any incisions or even a hospital stay. Using 200 beams of highly focused radiation, your doctor is able to precisely target the area to be treated, sparing healthy surrounding tissue. As a result, you will experience fewer of the unpleasant side effects often associated with traditional radiation therapy.
Gamma Knife is performed in an outpatient setting, which means you do not have to stay overnight in the hospital. Some patients require only a single session of Gamma Knife, while others may require multiple. Your doctor will be able to discuss how many sessions you can expect, based on your individual condition.
What is the Gamma Knife Head Frame?
The Gamma Knife head frame is part of the Gamma Knife radiosurgery unit that helps position you into the correct orientation. It prevents you from moving out of place once the treatment begins. This is both for your safety and comfort, and it ensures your doctor can direct the beams exactly where they need to be.
How the Head Frame Works During the Procedure
At the beginning of your procedure, your doctor will place the Gamma Knife head frame into position on your head. It is secured with four small pins, which hold it firmly in place but do not penetrate the skull. You will be given anesthetic at the pin sites to ensure you do not feel any discomfort.
When the head frame is in place, your doctor and radiology team will take and review several MRIs to determine the exact area to be targeted during treatment. Next, you are placed on a specialized table, and the head frame is secured into place to ensure there is no movement during treatment. You will be awake during your entire procedure and able to communicate with your doctor at any time.
Your treatment may last anywhere from 15 minutes to over an hour, depending on your individual condition and the area to be treated. When your procedure is complete, the doctor will remove the head frame, and you will be released to return home within a couple of hours.
Conditions Treated Using Gamma Knife
There are many conditions that can be treated using Gamma Knife radiosurgery, either as a primary therapy or in conjunction with traditional surgery. Some treatable conditions include:
- Acoustic neuroma
- Arteriovenous malformation
- Brain metastases
- Pineal tumors
- Pituitary tumors
- Skull base tumors
- Trigeminal neuralgia
- Vascular malformation
- Vestibular schwannoma
While this is not an exhaustive list, it does include many conditions of the head and neck for which Gamma Knife radiosurgery may be a treatment option. If you have been diagnosed with one of these conditions but your doctor has not discussed the possibility of using Gamma Knife, you may wish to bring it up at your next appointment to find out whether you may be a candidate.
Stay Active on Your Journey to Recovery
By learning as much as you can about your condition and procedure, you are taking an active role in your healthcare and setting yourself up to make more informed decisions throughout your treatment. Knowledge can help instill confidence, and the more you engage in the process, the more comfortable you will be as you transition from planning into treatment, and, ultimately, recovery.
If you find you still have questions about the Gamma Knife head frame, bring them up with your doctor at your next appointment. He or she will be glad to discuss any concerns you may have about your condition or the treatment itself.