Stereotactic Radiosurgery for Brain Metastases: Benefits & Risks

Whole brain radiation has historically been the treatment of choice for brain metastases. Stereotactic radiosurgery is an advanced form of radiation therapy that targets just the tumor, sparing healthy surrounding brain tissue.

Stereotactic Radiosurgery for Brain Metastases

Whether you were just diagnosed with brain metastases or already have a procedure scheduled, it is good to learn more about the treatment options available in northern NJ. Self-education is a powerful way to reduce some of the stress you may be feeling during this time. One treatment option you may have heard about is stereotactic radiosurgery. This can be an excellent treatment option for many NJ patients. The following information discusses the procedure, as well as risks and benefits of stereotactic radiosurgery.

What is Stereotactic Radiosurgery?

Stereotactic radiosurgery is an advanced form of radiation therapy that was developed in Sweden in the 1950s. In contrast to whole-brain radiation, which doses both healthy and tumor tissues, stereotactic radiosurgery can target a focused area. This means healthy surrounding brain cells and structures are spared.

There are different ways of delivering stereotactic radiosurgery. These include Gamma Knife radiosurgery and CyberKnife. Though the technologies and actual procedures are different, the overall treatment methods are similar. The information below is related to stereotactic radiosurgery in general, rather than a particular delivery system.

Choosing Stereotactic Radiosurgery for Brain Metastases

Metastatic brain cancer develops when tumor cells from cancer elsewhere in the body, such as the lung or breast. This means the cells that make up your brain metastases may not be the same as the next patient’s. As a result, your treatment plan will be tailored specifically for your individual needs. Factors your doctor will take into consideration include:

  • The origin of your brain metastases (lung, breast, kidney, etc.)
  • The number of tumors present
  • The location of your brain metastases
  • Your overall health

It is possible to treat more than one tumor during a single session of stereotactic radiosurgery. High-functioning patients with single or multiple brain metastases are excellent candidates, particularly for Gamma Knife radiosurgery.

The Treatment Process

Stereotactic radiosurgery takes place in an outpatient setting. This means you do not have to stay overnight in the hospital. There are differences in the Gamma Knife radiosurgery and CyberKnife treatment processes, which you may wish to learn more about. During stereotactic radiosurgery, you will be awake the entire procedure and able to communicate with your treatment team.

Actual treatment takes from 15-90 minutes, depending on the delivery system and the size, location and number of brain metastases being treated. Patients undergo 1-5 treatment sessions, again depending on individual treatment needs. Patients typically return home an hour or two after completing treatment and resume normal activities within 1-2 days.

Benefits & Risks of Stereotactic Radiosurgery for Brain Metastases

Before recommending stereotactic radiosurgery for brain metastases, your personal doctor will take into consideration all of the benefits and risks. However, it can be helpful to have an understanding of the risks and benefits of stereotactic radiosurgery in general.

Benefits of Stereotactic Radiosurgery

When compared to whole-brain radiation, stereotactic radiosurgery for brain metastases offers the following benefits:

  • Focused delivery of treatment, sparing healthy surrounding tissue
  • Less unpleasant side effects, such as hair loss, nausea, headaches and fatigue
  • Quicker, milder recovery
  • Fewer treatment sessions

There are also benefits of stereotactic radiosurgery for brain metastases when compared to surgery. While some patients may require surgical removal of all or part of their tumors, others may have an option. Benefits of stereotactic radiosurgery include:

  • No incisions, sutures or scarring
  • No hospital stay
  • No risk of reaction to general anesthesia or other surgical risks
  • Less pain following treatment
  • Ability to return to activities within a day or two, rather than weeks of recovery
  • Reduced risk of nerve and brain damage

Risks of Stereotactic Radiosurgery

As with any medical procedure, there are risks following stereotactic radiosurgery. This includes side effects that occur immediately, as well as delayed effects. Risks of stereotactic radiosurgery for brain metastases include:

  • If a head frame is used, there may be itching or redness at the pin sites. This typically only lasts a day or two.
  • You may have a headache, fatigue or nausea following treatment. Your doctor can prescribe medications to make you more comfortable, but these effects are usually mild and transient.
  • Some patients may experience swelling of the brain in the months after treatment. This can also be treated using medications.

The Right Treatment for You

If you are still in the treatment planning phase, understanding all of the options available in the tri-state area is an important part of making an informed decision. Once you have your procedure scheduled, it is equally important to know what you can expect before, during and after treatment. This includes all of the risks and benefits of stereotactic radiosurgery for brain metastases.

Continue the discussion with your personal doctor. He or she will be able to discuss the specific risks and benefits of stereotactic radiosurgery for your individual case. Maintaining open communication with your doctor will help you rest easy, knowing your health is in good hands.

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Our Patient Liaison is here to help you understand your next step. After discussing your specific case, she can help you navigate your medical records, answer insurance questions, and connect you with one of our nurses, at no charge to you.

Patient liaisons explain Gamma Knife surgery cost, outcomes, etc.