More and more doctors are recommending Gamma Knife stereotactic radiosurgery as a non-invasive treatment approach for many conditions, ranging from trigeminal neuralgia to brain tumors. Whether you already have a Gamma Knife treatment scheduled or are still in the planning stages of your treatment, it can be helpful to understand what you can expect throughout the process.
About Gamma Knife Radiosurgery
Gamma Knife radiosurgery is a form of stereotactic radiosurgery, an advanced medical procedure that uses many beams of low-dose radiation to target a very specific area for treatment. Each individual beam is incapable of producing an effect, but the use of multiple beams at once results in the delivery of a therapeutic overall dose. The precision of Gamma Knife allows your doctor to target the area of interest directly, sparing healthy surrounding tissues and reducing unpleasant side effects.
In spite of its name, Gamma Knife radiosurgery does not use a knife or scalpel, and your doctor will not be making any incisions. The treatment is typically performed in an outpatient setting and does not require a hospital stay or long recovery time. Many patients only undergo a single treatment session, though your doctor will recommend what is appropriate for your individual condition.
Before Gamma Knife Radiosurgery
In the time leading up to your Gamma Knife treatment, your doctor will provide you with specific instructions regarding your medications, when to arrive at your appointment and any other information specific to your personal treatment. However, most people can expect general directions that include some or all of the following:
- Your doctor will tell you which of your medications to take the night before your procedure and which to take the morning of. Be sure to follow these directions exactly, and let your doctor know if any issues arise.
- Wear comfortable clothing to your appointment.
- Do not wear nail polish, makeup, hair accessories or jewelry. You should also leave dentures, valuables and money at home.
- If you are uncomfortable in small spaces, be sure to discuss this with your doctor prior to your scheduled appointment.
- Apprise your medical team of any changes to your medical history, such as recent illnesses, diagnoses or changes in your medication.
- If you have any form of a medical implant, be sure your medical team knows this.
- Let your doctor know if you have an allergy to shellfish or iodine, as the procedure uses dyes with similar chemical substances.
During Gamma Knife Radiosurgery
During your Gamma Knife treatment, you will be awake and aware of everything going on around you. Your medical team will talk to you throughout the procedure, explaining aspects of the procedure as they happen.
At the beginning of treatment, the doctors will either place a frame or mask on your head, which helps the doctor position your head in exactly the right place and keeps it from moving during the procedure. Four small pins hold it securely in place, but these do not enter the skull. You will receive local anesthetic at each pin location to ensure you are comfortable.
Next, the doctors and radiology team members will take and review several MRIs. This will help them determine exactly where the target is located so it can be treated precisely. You will be placed on a specialized table, where the head frame is secured into place, keeping your head and neck perfectly still.
Treatment typically ranges from 15 minutes to over an hour, depending on the target area, desired end results and overall size of the area being treated. When your treatment is complete, the doctors will remove the head frame. Patients typically are released to go home within a couple hours of frame removal.
After Gamma Knife Radiosurgery
Immediately after your Gamma Knife treatment, you may have a slight headache or feel nauseated. You are allowed to eat and drink right away, so you can have something to settle your stomach, and your doctor may give you medication to make you feel more comfortable. You might have a little tenderness and bleeding at the pin sites.
Again, you will not be required to stay overnight and will be allowed to return home once your doctor has assessed your condition. You may be feeling a little fatigued for a few days, so be sure you get plenty of rest and do not push yourself, giving your body time to recover. Some patients will experience minor adverse effects after a short delay. You may notice that you don’t feel fatigued right away, but do not be surprised if it sets in and you feel more tired than usual.
Occasionally, patients will have delayed swelling that occurs approximately six months after treatment. Should this occur, your doctor will give you medication to reduce the swelling. Neurological complications following the procedure are rare.
Your Individual Results
No two patients are exactly alike and your treatment experience is going to depend on factors such as your individual condition and personal health history. It typically takes weeks to months to experience the effects of your Gamma Knife treatment, so remember to give your body time to heal. Your doctor will be able to give you a timeline personalized to your specific situation and can answer any further questions you may have before your treatment begins. He or she will help ensure you are comfortable at all stages of the treatment process so you can focus your energy on your recovery.