Gamma Knife vs. Whole Brain Radiation for Metastatic Brain Cancer

There are different forms of radiation therapy available to treat metastatic brain cancer. Whole brain radiation for metastatic brain cancer treats the entire brain, while Gamma Knife Radiosurgery treats a focused area.

  • Both take place in an outpatient setting, without a hospital stay
  • Whole brain radiation requires multiple treatment sessions per week for multiple weeks
  • Gamma Knife radiosurgery normally requires 1 session but may be up to 5
  • Patients experience fewer unpleasant side effects following Gamma Knife radiosurgery than whole brain radiation therapy

Your Metastatic Brain Cancer Treatment in Northern NJ

Many people are familiar with the use of radiation therapy to treat brain cancer. However, what you may not realize is there have been advancements in the field of cancer treatment and there are different forms of radiation therapy available beyond what you may be familiar with.

To help you better understand these differences, the following information will explore two common treatments: whole brain radiation therapy and Gamma Knife radiosurgery. By learning more about how the processes compare before, during and after the procedure, you will be able to continue the discussion with your personal doctor about your own individual treatment plan, giving you more confidence along the way.

About Metastatic Brain Cancer

Understanding your metastatic brain cancer can help as you are learning about the differences between treatment options. First, it is important to know that metastatic brain cancer is a tumor that has spread from another cancer site in the body. Common sites include the lung and breast. This is opposed to primary brain cancers, which arise from tissues within the brain itself.

Some patients are already aware of their primary cancer before being diagnosed with metastatic brain cancer. However, if the metastatic brain cancer is first, your doctor may order a biopsy to learn what types of cells make up the tumor to help diagnose your primary tumor as well. Your personal oncology team will work together to develop a comprehensive treatment path based on your individual condition and needs.

Gamma Knife Radiosurgery vs Whole Brain Radiation for Metastatic Brain Cancer

The next step is to learn about the differences between traditional whole brain radiation for metastatic brain cancer and an advanced radiation treatment called Gamma Knife radiosurgery. Both options are available to patients in northern NJ, and your doctor will make a treatment recommendation based on your specific case. Having a greater understanding of each, including the differences, can be helpful during the treatment planning process.

Differences in the Technology

Whole brain radiation for metastatic brain cancer is the delivery of low doses of radiation to the entire brain, including both healthy and cancer cells. This is the treatment most people are familiar with when thinking of radiation for treating brain cancer. It has been an effective form of treatment for many years. However, because it doses the entire brain, it can lead to unpleasant side effects, such as difficulties with memory and cognitive deficits.

By contrast, Gamma Knife radiosurgery is an advanced form of radiation treatment that uses 192 individual beams of low-dose radiation to target an area as precise as 0.15 mm – the width of two human hairs. This means your doctor will be able to treat only the cancer cells, sparing healthy surrounding tissue. As a result, patients tend to experience fewer side effects often associated with radiation therapy.

Preparing for Your Procedure

Because both whole brain radiation and Gamma Knife radiosurgery take place in an outpatient setting, you will not have to stay overnight in a hospital. However, whole brain radiation will require more treatment sessions, so you will need to plan accordingly and ensure you have taken time off from work and accounted for your recovery time.
Leading up to your radiation therapy, you may have imaging appointments or consults with your radiation therapy specialists, oncologist and/or personal doctor. At these appointments, you will be given any specific instructions to follow in the time leading up to your treatment.

The Day of Your Procedure

Again, you will not need to stay in the hospital following Gamma Knife radiosurgery or whole brain radiation for metastatic brain cancer. For either procedure, you should wear comfortable clothes without any jewelry. You will be asked to arrive early to check in, and you will be free to return home within a few hours of completing your procedure.

Gamma Knife radiosurgery typically takes 15-75 minutes, varying on an individual basis. Patients typically undergo 1 treatment session, but may need 5 treatment sessions overall, which can depend on the number of tumors, their size and location. Whole brain radiation tends to take the same amount of time, but patients will need to undergo 3-5 treatment sessions per week, for at least three weeks.

The Recovery Period

Because Gamma Knife radiosurgery is more precise and does not damage as many healthy cells as whole brain radiation for metastatic brain cancer, the recovery period is shorter and milder. The side effects are effects of radiation therapy and include fatigue, headache, nausea, redness and swelling at the treatment site, as well as delayed swelling of the brain approximately six months later.

Most patients are able to resume normal activities and return to work within a day or two of Gamma Knife radiosurgery treatment. Because whole brain radiation is administered more frequently for a longer course and also has more severe side effects, the recovery period can be longer for some patients.

Understanding Your Personal Treatment

Now that you have a deeper understanding of the differences between Gamma Knife radiosurgery and whole brain radiation for metastatic brain cancer, continue the discussion with your personal doctor. Whether you are in the treatment planning phase or already have your procedure scheduled, learning as much as you can about your condition can help give you confidence during this time. That peace of mind will translate to reduced stress as you move along your treatment path, allowing you to turn your energy towards your recovery.

Get Your Questions Answered, By a Real Person.

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.

We now offer the convenience of virtual consultations via computer and smartphone. To discuss your specific case with our Nurse Navigator, call 201-571-6494.