Gamma Knife Success Rate: The Factors Behind the Outcomes

Gamma Knife radiosurgery has proven itself to be a leader in the field of noninvasive treatments for many conditions. What sets it apart is that it, unlike more traditional surgical methods, does not require any sort of incision to be made. Instead, it uses finely tuned radiation to treat areas within the confines of the head and uppermost neck region.

What Is Gamma Knife Radiosurgery?

Despite the name, Gamma Knife radiosurgery isn’t surgery at all. The term “knife” is used to better describe the complete accuracy with which it works much like a scalpel in the hands of a skilled surgeon. The advantage with Gamma Knife radiosurgery is that it can be used to reach areas that wouldn’t otherwise be accessible for traditional surgery. It also is much safer for individuals who cannot withstand general anesthesia for one reason or another.

Using imaging to help pinpoint the exact location of where treatment is to be administered, approximately 200 tiny beams of radiation are all precisely focused on an area, or “target”. Although each of these beams is fairly benign on its own, when they all converge at the same point they deliver what is often called a “therapeutic dose” of radiation. This means that the amount delivered is enough to damage the pinpointed cells, much like that of traditional radiation therapy, but without the widespread effects on surrounding tissues.

Why Your Medication Is Not Working

There are a few different types of medications used to treat trigeminal neuralgia. Some help ease the pain directly, while others try to provide relief by eliminating the cause of the dysfunction. Sometimes the nerve is overstimulated, and medications can help inhibit it from firing excessively and causing pain. Anti-seizure medications and some antidepressants can help in this fashion and are typically the first step your doctor takes in treating your trigeminal neuralgia.

However, sometimes your trigeminal neuralgia medication does not work. This may happen because your condition is a result of something physically pressing on the nerve and causing it to fire inappropriately. Sometimes a tumor is causing the pressure, but it is most commonly a blood vessel near the brain that is the culprit. When this is the case, further intervention to remove the impingement may be necessary in order to provide relief.

Your Next Steps

If you feel like your trigeminal neuralgia medication is not working, it is important you schedule an appointment with your doctor immediately. Your doctor will discuss your symptoms and whether you have received any relief from your medications, which ones and to what degree. Sometimes imaging may be necessary to help your doctor determine the next appropriate steps. It is important you are working with someone experienced in treating your condition, such as a neurologist, as you move into your next phase of treatment.

Why Gamma Knife Can Be So Successful

Considering how many brain tumors, gliomas or nerve conditions cannot be accessed through traditional surgery, Gamma Knife radiosurgery is a blessing for both surgeons and patients. Another advantage is that it can be used for many patients who could not otherwise undergo surgery. Elderly individuals, those with other serious medical conditions or those whose treatment is circumscribed by the location of the tumor/target site are all potential candidates for Gamma Knife radiosurgery.

Safety of Gamma Knife Radiosurgery

As mentioned above, the safety of Gamma Knife radiosurgery is excellent when it comes to treatments for brain or nerve issues. Unlike the radiation exposure that comes with traditional radiation therapy, the dose “fall-off” from Gamma Knife radiosurgery is very steep. This means that it does not have the high concentrations of radiation therapy as it enters the body, leaving surrounding tissue and that which it passes through on the way to its target undamaged.

Because Gamma Knife radiosurgery is performed under local anesthesia, there are no general anesthetic risks attached as there would be with traditional cranial surgery. This allows patients to avoid recovery from general anesthesia and eliminates the need for a lengthy hospital stays (with people going home the same day as their Gamma Knife radiosurgery procedure).

Success Through Efficacy

Another reason the Gamma Knife success rate is so high is because it is incredibly effective. As a patient, you can expect that you won’t have to return for multiple treatments. In the majority of cases, a single treatment is all that is required. Even with traditional surgeries and especially those used to remove tumors or lesions, a repeated surgery may be needed if all of the affected tissue was not removed initially.

Precision at Its Finest

Because of the precision offered by Gamma Knife radiosurgery, surrounding tissues such as nerves and blood vessels can be avoided. As an example, the variability of precision with Gamma Knife radiosurgery is about 0.15 mm – less than the thickness of a strand of a hair. With Gamma Knife radiosurgery, the entire area can be targeted and, using imaging, the margins (or outer edges of the tumor or lesion) can be isolated to ensure full treatment.

Nearly Non-Existent Recovery Times

Gamma Knife’s non-invasive nature makes it incredibly quick to recover from – most people can resume their normal activities within a day or two. The effects of the treatment work slowly – anywhere from a couple of weeks to a year, depending on what the treatment is used for. Side effects are also minimal when compared to that of traditional surgeries. This makes it a great option for those with allergies to pain medications, pain intolerances, etc.

If you’ve decided to undergo Gamma Knife radiosurgery, it’s important to be aware of all of the details involved with this procedure, from what to expect from the treatment itself to the months afterward. The Gamma Knife success rate should be taken into consideration when making a choice on treatments. Talk with your surgeon if you have any doubts or questions. The more knowledge you have, the easier it will be to make the right decision for your unique needs.

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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