Gamma Knife Side Effects for Treating a Brain Tumor

Finding out you have a brain tumor can be an emotional process, but learning more about your condition and treatment options can help alleviate some of the stress you may be feeling. Educating yourself can help you understand what to expect throughout the process, which in turn can help you have confidence as you move forward. One brain tumor treatment option available to many patients is Gamma Knife radiosurgery. The following information will explain more about Gamma Knife radiosurgery, including treatable conditions and the possible Gamma Knife side effects after treating a brain tumor.

Understanding Gamma Knife Radiosurgery

You may not be familiar with Gamma Knife radiosurgery. It sounds like a surgical procedure, but the name is somewhat deceptive. It’s actually a form of advanced radiation therapy that can be used to treat conditions of the brain, head and neck, including brain tumors. During the procedure, your doctor will use nearly 200 individual beams of high-dose radiation to target just your tumor, sparing healthy neighboring tissues. This is in contrast to whole-brain radiation, which can be used to manage some types of brain tumors by treating the entire brain over several sessions.

Gamma Knife radiosurgery takes place in an outpatient setting. This means there is no hospital stay required. The procedure itself typically takes 15 minutes to just over an hour, depending on the area being treated. Many patients will only undergo a single treatment session, though this depends on the size and location of the treatment area. You can expect to return home within a few hours of completing treatment, and most patients are back to work and normal activities within a day or two.

Conditions Treated with Gamma Knife Radiosurgery

Recall that Gamma Knife radiation therapy is a form of stereotactic radiosurgery that has been developed specifically for treating the brain, head and neck. These include brain tumors, as well as other conditions that respond to Gamma Knife radiosurgery.

Brain tumors commonly treated with Gamma Knife radiosurgery include:

Other treatable conditions include:

During the treatment planning process, your doctor will determine whether you are a good candidate for Gamma Knife radiosurgery. Some patients may benefit from Gamma Knife radiosurgery as a sole method of treatment, but it’s also common to follow surgical removal of a brain tumor with Gamma Knife radiosurgery to eliminate any remaining tumor cells.

Your doctor may also recommend Gamma Knife radiosurgery if:

  • You cannot undergo surgery because of medical complications
  • Your brain tumor is in an area that is difficult to access via surgery, increasing the risk
  • You simply prefer a minimally invasive treatment option 


Gamma Knife Radiosurgery Side Effects for a Brain Tumor

The specific side effects that you could experience following Gamma Knife radiosurgery depend on your specific condition, the area treated and your individual health. However, it can be helpful to have a general understanding of the possible side effects before discussing your treatment with your doctor.

Following your procedure, many patients can feel fatigued. You may want to take the remainder of the day to rest and let your body recuperate. Most people are back to normal activities, including work, within a day or two.

Some patients experience a headache and/or nausea after treatment. These are typically mild and transient, lasting only a day or two. If you are very uncomfortable, your doctor can write a prescription to help manage your symptoms until they pass.

Rarely, patients experience side effects at the treatment site. Some patients have mild irritation of the scalp at the sites where the headframe attaches during treatment.

Finally, there is a potential delayed side effect that can occur approximately six months after Gamma Knife radiosurgery. Sometimes the brain will swell in the area that was treated. Your doctor will monitor for localized swelling of the brain during your follow-up visits and, should it occur, can prescribe medication to help manage the effect.

Understanding Your Possible Side Effects

Now that you have a deeper understanding of Gamma Knife radiosurgery and the side effects that may occur after treating a brain tumor, it’s important to find out how this information applies to you. Your next step is to continue the discussion with your doctor, who knows you and your condition best. He or she can explain what side effects may occur as a result of your specific condition, the size and location of your brain tumor and your individual health profile.

As you move forward through the treatment process, continue to educate yourself as you’ve done here. This can help you play a more active role in your care, helping provide a sense of control when you may be feeling overwhelmed. Write down any lingering questions you have so your doctor can help you work through them at your next appointment. The confidence and peace of mind it affords will help you rest easy and focus on your recovery instead.

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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