An Overview of Gamma Knife: Risks, Side Effects & Recovery

Before a doctor recommends a medical procedure, they will take into consideration all possible risks, side-effects and benefits, weighing each before determining that the treatment is appropriate for a particular patient. Your doctor went through that very process as he developed your treatment plan and came to the conclusion that you would benefit from Gamma Knife radiosurgery.

Though your doctor has likely already discussed the Gamma Knife risks and side effects, it can be helpful to understand what you may encounter following your procedure, including what to expect during your recovery in the days, weeks and months to come. The more information you have before your procedure, the greater peace of mind you can have as your treatment date approaches.

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Gamma Knife Risks & Side Effects

Any medical procedure has certain risks and potential side effects, which your doctor will consider prior to making any treatment recommendations. Gamma Knife risks and side effects are similar to those of other radiation therapies, though they tend to be milder because of the targeted delivery of radiation to the area of interest. The side effects you may experience can depend on the size and location of the area being treated as well as the duration and frequency of your treatment.

Possible Gamma Knife risks and/or side effects include:

  • Headache
  • Scalp swelling
  • Red and/or irritated skin at the treatment site
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Numbness and/or weakness
  • Seizures
  • Temporary or permanent hair loss at the treatment site
  • Swelling of the brain
  • Difficulty with balance
  • Vision or hearing deficits

An important potential risk of any radiation therapy is birth defects, so be sure to alert your doctor if there is any chance you might be pregnant or if you become pregnant prior to your treatment date. Your doctor may choose to reschedule your treatment to avoid any radiation exposure during your pregnancy.

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What To Expect After Gamma Knife Radiosurgery

Though your recovery will depend on the size and location of the area being treated, along with your individual health factors, it can be helpful to have a general understanding of what most patients experience following Gamma Knife radiosurgery. Simply knowing what to expect after Gamma Knife radiosurgery can help you feel more at ease with the entire process.

Immediately After Your Gamma Knife Procedure

Gamma Knife radiosurgery is an outpatient procedure, which means you do not have to stay in the hospital overnight. You will be awake throughout treatment, so you will not need to spend any time recovering from anesthesia. Most patients are released to return home within a few hours of the completion of treatment, which can range from 15 minutes to more than an hour.

During this time, if you received treatment requiring the use of a positioning frame, you may have a little bleeding or soreness at the site of the pins. If you have a headache or nausea, your doctor may give you medication to make you more comfortable. You should be able to resume all normal activities within a day or so.

In the Days After Your Procedure

For the first few days following your treatment, you may feel more fatigued than usual. Your body will need a little time to recover, so be sure you get plenty of rest and give yourself a chance to heal. Some patients experience swelling or discomfort at the site of treatment, which will typically resolve within the first week.

Even if you did not experience a headache or nausea immediately following your Gamma Knife procedure, you may start to feel discomfort after a short delay. Should this be the case, be sure you let your doctor know so she can prescribe you medications if necessary.

In the Months After Your Procedure

Some patients treated using Gamma Knife radiosurgery to the head will experience swelling of the brain approximately six months following treatment. This Gamma Knife risk is managed using medication, and neurological problems following treatment are rare.

You may also be undergoing additional treatments during this time. Though many patients benefit from a single session of Gamma Knife radiosurgery, some conditions will require multiple treatments, depending on the size, location and nature of the area being treated.

Long-term Maintenance After Your Procedure

Regardless of your condition, you can expect to have follow-up visits and monitoring with your doctor following your Gamma Knife radiosurgery. You may need to undergo follow-up imaging, additional treatments or even attend physical therapy to assist in the recovery process. Your doctor will be able to give you a more specific idea of what you can expect in the long term for your individual condition and situation.

Rest Easy Before Your Procedure

Knowing more about your condition and upcoming treatment is a great way to play an active role in your healthcare. Having a better understanding allows you to have more meaningful conversations with your doctor and can give you an idea of what to expect before, during and after your treatment.

Keep in mind throughout this process that your doctor has taken into consideration the Gamma Knife risks and benefits as they relate to your specific circumstances. Before making any treatment recommendation, your doctor must be confident that the benefits outweigh the risks and that the procedure is the appropriate choice for you. Rest easy with this knowledge, and focus on what matters most during this time: your recovery.

About the Author

Thomas Kole, MD, PhD, is a Radiation Oncologist at Valley–Mount Sinai Comprehensive Cancer Care, and Clinical Assistant Professor, Radiation Oncology at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. He has been a part of the gamma knife team at Valley since 2016. Dr. Kole is board certified in radiation oncology. His areas of specialization and expertise include gamma knife radiosurgery, radiation oncology, stereotactic radiosurgery, benign and malignant brain tumors, trigeminal neuralgia, and arteriovenous malformations.

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