If your doctor has recommended Gamma Knife radiosurgery to treat your medical condition, it can be helpful to understand as much as possible about the procedure itself and what to expect. Before undergoing any medical treatment, it is important to know the risks and side effects associated with the procedure. This holds true for any treatment option for any condition and is one of the primary factors your doctor takes into consideration when developing treatment recommendations.
The following information covers the Gamma Knife radiosurgery risks and provides a general overview of the technology and procedure itself, helping you to become more familiar with your upcoming treatment. Though Gamma Knife can be used to treat many different conditions, developing a broad understanding will allow you to further discuss any remaining questions you may have with your personal physician.
Overview of Gamma Knife
For patients unfamiliar with Gamma Knife radiosurgery, it can be surprising to learn that it is not a type of surgery at all and does not involve any incisions or scalpels. Instead, it is a relatively noninvasive form of radiation therapy performed in an outpatient setting. Gamma Knife is a form of stereotactic radiosurgery, which uses approximately 200 individual beams of minutely focused radiation that can be targeted at a highly specific area for treatment.
Because Gamma Knife is able to treat such a precise area, the surrounding tissues are not dosed with radiation in the same way as other radiation therapies. As a result, patients experience fewer unpleasant side effects often associated with radiation therapy and a shorter recovery time. There are also no risks associated with surgery, such as infection, and the procedure does not require a hospital stay.
Gamma Knife radiosurgery can be used to treat many conditions, either alone or in combination with other treatment methods such as surgery. Some conditions that respond well to Gamma Knife include:
- Acoustic neuroma
- Arteriovenous malformation
- Brain metastases
- Pineal tumors
- Pituitary tumors
- Skull base tumors
- Trigeminal neuralgia
- Vascular malformation
- Vestibular schwannoma
Risks and Side Effects
Immediately following treatment, you may experience nausea or a headache. Your doctor will write you any necessary prescriptions to ease discomfort, and these effects typically pass within a few days. You may also have minor pain, swelling or itching at the pin sites, but these too heal quickly.
Some patients might experience delayed swelling approximately six months after undergoing Gamma Knife. Your doctor will monitor you for any signs or symptoms of swelling at your follow-up appointments, and should this swelling occur, it is treatable with prescription medications.
While learning about your condition and treatment options, you may have encountered information about other Gamma Knife radiosurgery risks. Some questions you may have are addressed below.
Does Gamma Knife cause new tumors or make existing tumors worse?
Researchers have found that there is no increased risk of a benign tumor turning malignant or new malignancies forming as a result of Gamma Knife radiosurgery. The focused nature of stereotactic radiosurgery, as compared to other radiation therapies, spares healthy surrounding tissues, and the Gamma Knife technology specifically delivers two to four times less radiation than other radiosurgery systems.
Does Gamma Knife increase the risk of seizures?
Seizures are listed as a risk of Gamma Knife radiosurgery because they do happen in some patients, particularly patients already being treated for a seizure disorder. However, in a study of over 2,300 patients, only nine people, or 0.004 percent, experienced a seizure following treatment.
Your Gamma Knife Procedure
On the day of your procedure, wear comfortable clothing without any jewelry, makeup or hair accessories. You will not be staying overnight, so you do not need to bring extra items with you. Your doctor will give you instructions about any modifications to medications you are taking, and it is important you follow them precisely to ensure you are safe and comfortable.
The first step in your procedure is the placement of a head frame, which is secured using four small pins, which do not penetrate the skull or a custom-made mask. Next, your neurosurgeon and radiation oncologist will take and review a series of MRIs to finalize the location of the area to be treated. When it is time for the procedure to begin, you will lie on a specialized table, and the head frame/mask will be secured into place to keep your head and neck absolutely still during the process.
The treatment itself generally takes between 15 minutes and an hour, and you will be awake and able to converse with the other people in the room. When the procedure is complete, the doctor will remove the head frame/mask, and you will be released to recover at home within a few hours. Most patients are able to resume daily activities within a day or two.
Stay Educated & Involved in Your Treatment
Learning more about your treatment options and the risks and benefits of each is a great way to have confidence in the choices you make throughout the treatment process. Before making any recommendations, your personal doctor weighed many factors related to your individual circumstances. Take what you have learned here into your next appointment, and continue the conversation to develop a deeper understanding of why your doctor has recommended this treatment. You’ll likely find the more you know, the greater your peace of mind and the more you can rest easy as your treatment date approaches.