If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with meningioma, you’re sure to have questions. While your personal doctor will be the best person to discuss your individual condition and your meningioma treatment options, it can be helpful to have a basic understanding of what many patients experience. This will help you in conversations with your own doctor, allowing you to ask more specific questions regarding your own situation.
What is Meningioma?
Your brain and spinal cord are covered by a thin, durable layer called the meninges. A meningioma is a tumor that forms from this tissue. These tumors typically develop during middle age and are more common in women than men. The majority of meningioma tumors are benign. However, 1-2% are malignant and very aggressive. It’s important to understand that benign does not mean harmless. A benign meningioma can still put pressure on the brain or other structures, necessitating meningioma treatment.
Meningiomas are classified by grade. This is a measure of the aggressiveness of the tumor, based on a biopsy report by a pathologist. Grade I meningiomas are the most common form. These tumors are not very aggressive but may still lead to symptoms. Grade II meningiomas are still benign, but they are more aggressive and, likewise, require more aggressive meningioma treatment. Grade III meningiomas are malignant and require careful and timely management. Grade III meningiomas often return following meningioma treatment.
How is Meningioma Treated?
If your meningioma is small and asymptomatic, your doctor may not meningioma recommend treatment right away. When treatment is necessary, either surgery, radiation or a combination approach may be used. Surgery is typically required for very large or aggressive tumors. Gamma Knife radiosurgery can be used if a tumor regrows, wasn’t entirely removed or was very small.
If your meningioma is a grade II or III tumor, your meningioma treatment plan will likely include both surgical resection and Gamma Knife radiosurgery. Your doctor will develop a treatment plan based on the grade of your tumor, its size and location and your individual health factors. Because all patients are unique, there is no “one size fits all” answer.
What is Gamma Knife Radiosurgery as Meningioma Treatment?
Though it sounds like a surgical procedure, Gamma Knife radiosurgery is actually an advanced form for radiation therapy. There are no scalpels, no incisions and no hospital stay. Instead, your doctor uses approximately 200 individual beams of low-dose radiation to target just your tumor, sparing healthy surrounding tissue.
This is what sets Gamma Knife radiosurgery apart from traditional radiation therapy, or whole-brain radiation therapy. During whole-brain radiation therapy, the entire brain receives many low doses of radiation over time. More likely, a fractioned approach may be used to treat the area around the tumor, but not the whole brain. This approach will most likely cause hair loss.
Because Gamma Knife radiosurgery can target such a precise area (within 0.15 mm), healthy surrounding tissues receive little to no radiation dose. This is why the recovery period is so brief and mild, lasting only a day or two.
Is Gamma Knife Radiosurgery Really Minimally Invasive?
Gamma Knife radiosurgery truly is a minimally invasive procedure. It’s more akin to having diagnostic imaging done than a surgical procedure. You simply lie on a table with a headframe or custom mask to help prevent movement. You are awake the entire time, and you don’t have to stay overnight in the hospital. This eliminates the risks of surgery altogether because there is no general anesthesia and no incision.
What is Meningioma Recovery Like Following Gamma Knife Radiosurgery?
Because Gamma Knife radiosurgery is minimally invasive, recovery following meningioma treatment is generally brief and mild. There is no hospital stay, and most patients are able to return to work and other activities within a day or two. You may have a headache, nausea or feel fatigued at first, but the effects are transient and can be managed with medication.
After meningioma treatment, some patients may experience delayed brain swelling in the preceding months. If and when this occurs varies from case to case. Your doctor will monitor for swelling at your follow-up appointments. Should it occur, he will write you a prescription for medication to resolve the swelling, but in rare cases this may require surgery.
Can Gamma Knife Radiosurgery Be Repeated?
Yes, Gamma Knife radiosurgery can be repeated. In fact, many patients may require additional meningioma treatment, but usually once is enough. The number of sessions needed depends on the size and location of your tumor, its aggressiveness and your treatment history.
Is Gamma Knife Radiosurgery Available in Northern NJ?
It is. Many patients in the tri-state area have undergone Gamma Knife radiosurgery treatment for many conditions, including meningioma.
Keep Asking Questions
Even if some of your questions were answered here, you’re sure to have more throughout the process. Be sure to bring them up with your personal doctor. He will work with you to ensure you are comfortable with all stages of your meningioma treatment. The less you have on your mind, the more you can focus on resting before and after your procedure.