Gamma Knife – Frequently Asked Questions
For more information or questions
about Gamma Knife at UAMS please
call 501-603-1800 or email BaxterrhoadesKarenL@uams.edu to
contact the UAMS Gamma Knife
Coordinator Karen Baxter-Rhodes, RN.
What is a Gamma Knife?
The Gamma Knife is not actually a knife at all. It is a stereotactic radiosurgical device that non-invasively treats malignant and benign brain tumors, vascular malformations and trigeminal neuralgia in a single patient visit. Patients are treated on an out-patient basis or may require an overnight hospital stay.
How does the Gamma Knife work?
Utilizing advanced diagnostic imaging and three-dimensional treatment planning software, Gamma Knife delivers 192 precisely focused beams of gamma radiation to small targets inside the brain. Radiation is only delivered at a single, finely focused point where all 192 beams converge to treat the diseased tissue, while nearby healthy tissue is spared.
What are the benefits?
Gamma Knife Perfexion treatment has many benefits. It is bloodless, virtually painless, does not result in hair loss and has a rapid return to pre-treatment activities. Gamma Knife treatment also has excellent, well-documented clinical outcomes for a variety of brain diseases and disorders.
There are also several benefits of having Gamma Knife radiosurgery verses other forms of radiation or surgery. The benefits of Gamma Knife Perfexion treatment differs from conventional radiation therapy of the brain because it is only directed to targeted areas and spares unnecessary treatment of adjacent, normal brain tissue. Only a one-day treatment is required rather than many treatments over several weeks, and the treatment often can be repeated if necessary.
Gamma Knife treatment can also replace brain surgery in some patients with brain tumors, vascular malformations and facial pain. An individual who would be at risk for complications from conventional surgery may be a candidate for Gamma Knife radiosurgery. Gamma Knife treatment can be used when prior surgery or radiation therapy has failed to control the disease process. It can also be used in conjunction with conventional surgery in previously inoperable cases, other forms of radiation therapy and chemotherapy.
What if I am older or have other medical conditions?
Gamma Knife radiosurgery is especially valuable for patients whose neurological disorders require a difficult surgical approach or may be impossible to treat using conventional neurosurgical techniques. Patients of advanced age or in poor medical condition can be at an unacceptably high risk for anesthesia and conventional surgery, making Gamma Knife treatment an ideal solution. Gamma Knife technology also is highly beneficial for patients whose lesions are situated in an inaccessible or functionally critical area within the brain. In addition, the treatment can be used as an adjunct to the care of a patient who has undergone conventional brain surgery, interventional neuroradiology or conventional radiation therapy or chemotherapy.
What conditions can be treated by the Gamma Knife?
Conditions for which the Gamma Knife is considered are:
- Malignant tumors such as metastases (cancer that has spread to the brain) and malignant gliomas
- Benign tumors such as meningiomas, acoustic neuromas (vestibular schwannomas), pituitary tumors and low grade glioma and skull-based tumors
- Vascular malformations such as arteriovenous malformations (AVMs) and cavernous angiomas (cavernous malformations)
- Functional disorders such as trigeminal neuralgia
How are patients referred for Gamma Knife treatment?
Most patients are referred to the Gamma Knife program by their doctors. However, some make self-referrals. The Gamma Knife team reviews each patient’s records to determine if Gamma Knife treatment would be advantageous.
What information is used to determine if Gamma Knife treatment is appropriate?
The following information is considered:
- Medical and surgical history
- Clinical examinations
- Imaging studies, such as MRI, CT and/or PET scans
Is Gamma Knife treatment effective?
The Gamma Knife’s success rate is impressive. Supported by more than two decades of clinical research, this neurosurgical tool has met with unprecedented results. Clinical applications continue to grow, and its many benefits as a non-invasive treatment modality continue to make it the treatment of choice for certain clinical conditions.
What happens during Gamma Knife treatment?
Once a patient’s condition is reviewed by our multidisciplinary team and Gamma Knife treatment is deemed appropriate, the patient will be scheduled for a treatment day. On the day of treatment, there are several steps that take place. First, a lightweight frame is attached to the patient’s head. Local anesthesia is used before the frame is secured in place. The patient then has an MRI or CT imaging study, or in the case of an arteriovenous malformation, angiography, may be needed in order to precisely locate the diseased area. Data from the imaging study is transferred into the treatment planning computer. While the patient rests, the treatment team (a neurosurgeon, radiation oncologist and physicist) uses advanced software to determine the treatment plan. This takes one or two hours to complete, depending on the complexity and location of the disease. When the individual treatment plan is completed, the patient is placed on the Gamma Knife couch and precisely positioned. The patient is then moved automatically, head first into the machine, and treatment begins. Treatment typically lasts from 15 minutes to an hour or more, during which time the patient feels nothing unusual.
Actual treatment time varies based on the condition being treated and its location. Following treatment, the patient is automatically moved out of the machine, and the head frame is removed.
What will I feel during Gamma Knife Treatment?
During the actual procedure, the patient does not see or feel the radiation during treatment. Before the treatment takes place, patients typically feel slight discomfort from the local anesthetic used prior to head frame placement, and have reported feeling pressure for a short time while the pins are inserted to fixate the head frame, but no pain.
Will I be awake during the procedure?
The patient remains conscious throughout the entire procedure, and may communicate with the treatment team.
Will my head be shaved?
No, the head is not shaved. In rare cases the treatment may cause some hair loss.
What can I expect after the treatment?
When the treatment is finished, the head frame will be removed. Sometimes there is a little bleeding from where the pins were attached to the head. In this case, gauze and pressure will be applied to stop the bleeding and keep the area clean. A temporary head dressing is placed to keep the pin sites clean. It is recommended that the patient take it easy over the next 12 to 24 hours. Pre-Gamma Knife activities can be resumed within a few days.
Is Gamma Knife treatment safe?
The Gamma Knife allows non-invasive brain surgery to be performed with extreme precision while sparing healthy tissues surrounding the targeted treatment area. Also, because neither a surgical incision nor general anesthesia is required, the risks usually involved with open brain surgery, such as hemorrhage or infection, may be reduced. Hospitalization is rarely required and recovery time is minimal. While individual patient outcomes may vary, patients may resume their normal pre-surgery lifestyle within a few days.
How quickly will the treatment work?
The effects of Gamma Knife radiosurgery occur over several days to several years, depending on the type of medical condition treated. The radiation alters the DNA of the tumor or lesion being treated so that the cells no longer reproduce, eventually rendering the lesion inert. Some abnormalities dissolve gradually, eventually disappearing. Others simply exhibit no further growth. The effectiveness of the treatment is monitored by MRI scans at regular intervals. The goal of radiosurgery is tumor control, which is defined as stable tumor size or tumor shrinkage.
What are the complications of Gamma Knife treatment?
Early complications may include:
- Common side effects – local pain and swelling in the scalp and headache
- Rare complications – skin reddening and irritation, nausea and seizure
Delayed complications may include:
- Uncommon complications – local loss of hair in superficial lesions, local brain swelling in the treatment site and local tissue necrosis in the treatment site
- Rare complications – visual loss (dependent on diagnosis and areas treated) and hearing loss (dependent on diagnosis and areas treated)
When can I return to my normal activities?
Within a few days. The only restrictions you will have are the same you had prior to your treatment.
Is Gamma Knife treatment more or less expensive than traditional brain surgery?
Cost studies have shown Gamma Knife radiosurgery to be less expensive than conventional neurosurgery because it eliminates lengthy post-surgical hospital stays, expensive medication and potentially months of rehabilitation. Importantly, there are virtually no post-surgical disability and convalescent costs with this procedure.
Will my insurance cover this procedure?
Gamma Knife radiosurgery is reimbursed by most insurance companies, PPOs, HMOs and Medicare.
For more information or to find out if this treatment option is right for you, please call 501-603-1800 or email BaxterrhoadesKarenL@uams.edu to contact UAMS Gamma Knife Coordinator Karen Baxter-Rhodes, RN.