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How Does Gamma Knife Radiation Compare to Other Types of Radiation?

Gamma Knife radiation is one of the most technologically advanced treatment methods for brain tumors and other brain abnormalities today, but many people don’t know about it.

If you’ve recently been diagnosed with a brain tumor or abnormality, you’re probably overwhelmed. Getting any diagnosis is scary, and facing your treatment options can be very stressful.

When it comes to treatment, the main options are medications, surgery, radiation therapy, and Gamma Knife radiosurgery.

Keep reading our page to learn all about Gamma Knife radiosurgery, what conditions it can treat, and how it compares to other forms of radiation therapy. 

gamma knife radiation

What is Gamma Knife Radiosurgery?

Gamma Knife radiosurgery is a type of radiation that is used to treat brain tumors, vascular malformations, and other conditions caused by a brain abnormality. This treatment is fairly similar to CyberKnife, which is another form of radiation treatment. 

Gamma Knife radiosurgery is also known as stereotactic radiosurgery or Gamma Knife radiation. Despite the name, Gamma Knife doesn’t involve actual surgery. It’s Knife-less.

This procedure is done by using high dose beams of radiation in a target area of the brain. Because the radiation beams are so precise, they don’t cause damage to the surrounding healthy tissues, therefore minimizing a lot of risks and side effects that come from other treatments.

Gamma Knife is a good option for patients who aren’t good candidates for surgery, patients who have a difficult-to-reach tumor, or even patients who just want a less invasive method treatment plan.

The Gamma Knife procedure is an outpatient treatment and has an easier recovery than surgical methods.

What Conditions Does Gamma Radiation Treat?

When you hear about radiation therapy, most people think of cancer. While Gamma Knife Radiosurgery can help with certain types of cancer, it’s also an effective treatment for many other conditions. We’ve made a list below of some conditions that can benefit from this treatment.

Brain Tumors

Gamma Knife radiation treats both benign (non-cancerous) and malignant (cancerous) brain tumors. This method is often preferable because it can treat tumors that are difficult to reach in other methods.

Arteriovenous Malformation (AVM)

Arteriovenous malformation occurs from a tangled formation of blood vessels that disrupt the blood flow through parts of the body. These can be diagnosed through a CT scan or magnetic resonance imaging MRI. Gamma radiation can treat AVMs in the brain and spinal cord. 

Trigeminal Neuralgia

Trigeminal neuralgia is a condition where something compresses the trigeminal nerve, like a blood vessel or tumor, and causes chronic pain through the face and cheek. Gamma Knife radiation can treat whatever is causing the compression.

Pituitary Tumors

Pituitary tumors can develop and cause hormonal problems or vision problems. These tumors can be treated through medication, Gamma Knife radiation, or a combination of the two. 

Acoustic Neuroma

An acoustic neuroma is a benign tumor that grows on the vestibulocochlear nerves, which are responsible for hearing and balance. Gamma Knife radiation is a great treatment option for smaller tumors that aren’t putting pressure on the brainstem. 

Tremors

Essential tremors is a movement disorder that causes an active tremor in the upper extremities. This disorder is caused by overactive cells in the thalamus, which can be targeted and treated by this method.

Epilepsy

Some types of epilepsy can be treated through surgical intervention. In these cases, a less invasive and even more effective treatment method is stereotactic radiosurgery. 

Traditional Radiation Therapy

Typically when people get radiation therapy to treat one of the conditions we listed above, they receive radiation in smaller fractions separated by days and weeks. With “fractionated radiation therapy”, a low dose of radiation can be administered to a larger area that can include the target (abnormal area) as well as some surrounding brain or brainstem tissue (normal area).

Since this type of radiation therapy targets a wider “field” within the treatment area, it can be associated some unpleasant side effects. These side effects can include:

  • Hair loss
  • Fatigue
  • Scalp issues
 

Most of these side effects are very specific to the pathology being treated, pre-existing neurological issues and the treatment area.  These side effects are often short-term, but with continued radiation treatments, they may become long-term. An experienced radiation team will often tailor a patient’s treatment to best fit the problem at hand.

Benefits of Gamma Knife Radiation

While there are a lot of benefits of stereotactic radiosurgery, we’re going to focus on the benefits when compared to other types of radiation. If you’re looking for more information on the benefits of Gamma Knife when compared to CyberKnife specifically, you can read about them here.

Fewer Treatments Needed

Because Gamma Knife uses high doses of radiation on the targeted area, it doesn’t need as many treatments as other forms of radiation. Compared to fractionated radiation which needs multiple treatment sessions over several weeks, Gamma Knife typically only needs one session.

Fewer Side Effects

As we mentioned above, Gamma Knife radiation has fewer and milder side effects than other forms of radiation treatment. This is because the radiation doesn’t also target the healthy tissues, and there are fewer treatments.

If you do experience any of the side effects, reach out to your doctor and your radiation oncologist so they can monitor them. 

Easier Recovery

Because of everything we’ve listed above, the recovery time for Gamma Knife radiation is often shorter and easier than any other radiation treatment. Patients can usually resume their day-to-day activities between 24 and 48 hours after their last session. 

Risks of Gamma Knife Radiation

As with any medical procedure, Gamma Knife treatment has some risks that could occur. While the chances of these are low, your doctor should go over them with you so you know what to look out for after the treatment. 

Some of these risks or side effects can include:

  • Headache
  • Scalp swelling
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Fatigue
  • Swelling of the brain
  • Numbing sensation

Is Gamma Knife Radiation for You?

Figuring out a treatment plan that works best for your health and lifestyle is stressful, but it helps to know all of your options. Hopefully, you now have the guidance you need to help you make a decision that you feel comfortable and confident with.

Our desired outcome is the same as yours – results. Reach out to us for a consultation if you’d like to learn more about Gamma Knife radiation. 

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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