Not so long ago, a small tumor deep within the brain could not be safely treated with traditional surgery or radiation without unacceptable risks of harm from the surgical procedure or from radiation’s effects on normal tissues.
Now, we can destroy deep-seated brain tumors—up to about half an inch—with a targeted dose of 200 radiation beams that leaves surrounding healthy tissue intact. Called stereotactic radiosurgery, this minimally invasive procedure requires only local anesthetic. Patients can go home and soon continue with normal life after an ambulatory session that just takes part of a morning or afternoon.
Over the years, technological improvements in medical imaging and computing have allowed more use of stereotactic radiosurgery to treat benign and malignant brain tumors, vascular malformations and functional disorders. Advanced systems like Gamma Knife Perfexion allow more precision to target tumors that used to be challenging to treat with traditional methods. Sometimes, physicians use the Gamma Knife system for secondary, post-surgical treatment.
What Gamma Knife Treatment Is Like
The Gamma Knife is not a knife at all, so there is no cutting. Instead, you will wear a special, lightweight head frame while imaging equipment locates the precise size, shape and location of abnormal tissue. Markers on the frame display within the new images to help your physician tailor a treatment plan.
To begin treatment, you’ll lie down on the Gamma Knife treatment table wearing the lightweight frame and specialized headwear. Your physicians will customize a plan for you that will use the frame to precisely concentrate radiation to the target.
At the start of Gamma Knife radiosurgery, the treatment table moves your head into position for the computer-controlled treatment your physicians have designed and prescribed. Our team monitors your procedure at all times, and you can communicate with them through a video and audio connection.
Gamma Knife treatments are designed to stop the growth of tumors or lesions, so they regress or disappear during the next period of weeks or months. The North Shore-LIJ Center for Stereotactic Radiosurgery stays in contact to assess progress, which will include follow-up imaging scans and periodic check-ups.
On the Vanguard of Radiosurgery
Evolution continues in the field of radiosurgery. For instance, we are joining hundreds of neurosurgeons, radiation oncologists and physicists in New York City this week for the 17th International Leksell Gamma Knife Society Meeting to discuss the latest developments in Gamma Knife radiosurgery. And as a participant in stereotactic radiosurgery trials, North Shore-LIJ offers patients with certain types of tumors to collaborate in our work with the National Cancer Institute and other research organizations. Please email us to learn about enrolling.