Gamma Knife radiosurgery is an effective treatment for many conditions. As with any medical procedure, it is important to understand the side effects before treatment.
- Potential short-term side effects include fatigue, nausea, headache and discomfort at the pin sites.
- Short-term side effects tend to last just a few days and can be eased with medication.
- Some patients experience delayed swelling of the brain several months following the procedure as a long-term side effect, which can be treated with medication.
Understanding Your Procedure
It is important to understand the long-term side effects of any medical procedure before treatment, including Gamma Knife radiosurgery. Weighing the risks and benefits of all treatment options is part of the treatment planning phase, and your doctor will only recommend a procedure if the benefits outweigh the risks in your specific case. However, any medical treatment will have associated risks. Understanding those beforehand can help you know what to expect following your procedure.
How Gamma Knife Radiosurgery Works
Gamma Knife radiosurgery can be used to treat many medical conditions. However, many NJ patients are unfamiliar with the technology. Before discussing the long-term side effects, it is helpful to understand more about Gamma Knife radiosurgery and how it can be used to treat your condition.
Though it sounds like a surgical procedure, Gamma Knife radiosurgery does not involve any incisions. Instead, it is an advanced form of radiation therapy available in the tri-state area that can be used to treat brain tumors, vascular conditions and other conditions of the head and neck. It can be an excellent option as a primary treatment, in combination with surgery or as an alternative for patients who are not good surgical candidates.
Unlike traditional whole brain radiation therapy, Gamma Knife radiosurgery treats only the area of interest. Using nearly 200 beams of individual low-dose radiation, your doctor is able to target an area as precise as 0.15 mm – the width of one human hair. This means a small area can be treated with a combined effective dose without damaging healthy surrounding tissues. The result is fewer unpleasant side effects than other radiation therapy options.
Gamma Knife radiosurgery takes place in an outpatient setting. This means you will not need to stay overnight in the hospital. Most patients return home within a few hours of the end of the procedure. You will be awake during treatment, so you will not have to avoid eating or drinking before treatment. However, your doctor may make changes to your medications in the time leading up to your procedure.
At the beginning of your appointment, your team will place a headframe or custom mask over your head to ensure you remain in position during treatment. Once in place, final imaging is done to confirm the treatment site. When all of the settings are finalized, you will be placed on a table and the headframe or mask is secured into place. The table will move gently into the unit, and your treatment will begin.
The treatment session itself lasts 15-75 minutes, depending on your individual condition. During treatment, you will be able to hear and speak to your care team. Once treatment is complete, the headframe or mask is removed, and you will be free to return home within a few hours.
Recovery Following Gamma Knife Radiosurgery
Because Gamma Knife radiosurgery is minimally invasive, the recovery period is short and relatively mild. Most patients are able to return to normal activities, including work, within just a day or two. Some patients experience fatigue, headache and nausea for a couple of days. Your doctor can prescribe medication to help ease your symptoms, if necessary. You may also have itchiness or discomfort on your scalp where the headframe pins were attached, but this will also resolve within a day or two.
Following your Gamma Knife radiosurgery, you will have follow-up appointments with your doctor. At these appointments, your doctor may order further imaging. He or she will also monitor the resolution of your symptoms and will assess the need for further treatments. It is very important that you attend all follow-up visits as scheduled to allow your doctor to monitor your recovery.
Gamma Knife Long-term Side Effects
Some patients will experience delayed swelling of the brain approximately six months following treatment. This is another reason why it is important to attend all follow-up appointments. Your doctor will monitor for signs of swelling at these appointments, but you should also alert him or her if you begin to experience headaches that seem out of the norm. Should you experience swelling, it will be treated with prescription medication and typically requires no further treatment.
Continue to Stay Involved
Because you are taking the time to educate yourself about your condition and procedure, you are an active player in your own treatment. This is a powerful way to set your mind at ease during this time, as you will know what to expect along the way. As you move forward, be sure to continue learning about what is to come. Discuss your individual condition with your personal doctor, as he or she will be able to relate what you have learned to your specific case. The time you spend now will help you have more peace of mind during your recovery, allowing you to focus your energy on healing when your body needs it most.
“The doctors, nurses and everyone were really nice, and even better, I felt no discomfort during the procedure.” - Charles Schofield