Gamma Knife Radiosurgery: FAQs on this Brain Tumor Treatment

Gamma knife frequently asked questionsWhat is Gamma Knife Radiosurgery?

Gamma Knife Radiosurgery is a type of radiation therapy used for treating small- and medium-sized brain tumors and other neurological disorders. With guidance from advanced imaging technology, the machine aims many high-dose radiation beams at lesions so they die or stop growing. The beams are highly precise and concentrate the radiation on the treatment area, significantly reducing the chance of damaging surrounding healthy brain tissue.


Is Gamma Knife Radiosurgery considered surgery?

No, Gamma Knife Radiosurgery is a type of radiation therapy and does not involve any incisions. A headframe will be placed with local topical anesthesia. The headframe will hold your head in position for the radiation beams to target the lesion. During the Gamma Knife procedure, you will remain awake and you will not feel the radiation being delivered.


What conditions can Gamma Knife Radiosurgery treat?

Gamma Knife Radiosurgery is used to treat both cancerous and benign brain tumors as well as various neurological conditions. The Rocky Mountain Gamma Knife Center uses Gamma Knife Radiosurgery to treat:

  • Small- and medium-sized brain tumors, including brain metastases
  • Cranial nerve lesions, such as vestibular schwannomas and trigeminal neuralgia
  • Pituitary tumors
  • Arteriovenous malformations

What is involved in Gamma Knife Radiosurgery?

The Rocky Mountain Gamma Knife Center is located at the University of Colorado Hospital Outpatient Pavilion. After checking in the morning of the procedure, you will be taken to the pre-operative area where you will change into a gown and an IV will be started. You will then be escorted to the Rocky Mountain Gamma Knife Center where you will meet with the Gamma Knife nurses and your treating physician. After your questions have been answered, you will sign a written consent form. Once this is signed, your nurses will provide light sedation and your physician will give local topical anesthesia. This will be followed with the positioning of a lightweight head frame. The headframe will hold your head in position for the radiation beams to target the lesion.

Next, you’ll have MRI or CT imaging done that your treatment team will use, along with advanced software, to precisely map out your Gamma Knife treatment.

Once your individual treatment plan has been developed, you will be positioned in the Gamma Knife machine. The treatment time varies, depending on complexity and number of lesions and their location in the brain. You will not see or feel anything during the radiation treatment.

Once the treatment is completed, your nurses will remove your headframe and place a bandage on your head. You will then be escorted to the post-operative area in which you should plan to stay around an hour prior to going home.


Does Gamma Knife Radiosurgery hurt?

No, Gamma Knife Radiosurgery itself does not hurt. The Gamma Knife is also silent, so you don’t need to be concerned about loud noises. There is some discomfort associated with the head frame placement, which the Gamma Knife team tries to minimize with medications.


What is the Gamma Knife radiosurgery head frame for?

Gamma Knife Radiosurgery uses highly precise radiation beams that must be aimed carefully at the treatment site to minimize any damage to surrounding brain tissue. The head frame keeps your head in position during the procedure so the radiation is concentrated at the treatment site.


What are the benefits of Gamma Knife Radiosurgery?

There are numerous benefits to having Gamma Knife Radiosurgery in place of traditional radiation or open surgery:

  • Gamma Knife Radiosurgery is not painful like surgery.
  • In most cases, Gamma Knife Radiosurgery is complete after one session unlike other types of radiation therapy.
  • It’s effective. Gamma Knife Radiosurgery has a tumor control rate of 95%, according to a study published in Brain Tumor Research and Treatment.
  • The highly precise radiation beams target the treatment site while sparing the surrounding healthy tissue.
  • Patients can return to work as soon as the next day.
  • The procedure is performed using local anesthetic rather than general anesthesia as with surgery.
  • It may be a good option for people who are unable to have surgery or for those who have already had surgery.
  • The side effects tend to be fewer and less severe than side effects associated with other types of radiation and do not include hair loss.


What are the side effects of Gamma Knife Radiosurgery?

The side effects of Gamma Knife Radiosurgery are typically minor and can vary between patients. Some of the most common, short term side effects reported by patients include:

  • Fatigue
  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Mild swelling of the forehead and eyelids
  • Temporary numbness of the scalp

Long term side effects involving the brain depend on the exact nature of the lesions being treated and will be discussed by your doctor at the time of treatment.


When can I expect to go home?

Most patients can expect to spend approximately 5-8 hours total at our center. 


What happens after I have Gamma Knife Radiosurgery?

After Gamma Knife Radiosurgery, you’ll go back to your daily activities as soon as you feel up to it. For most patients, this is within a day or two of treatment. Your tumor or lesion will not be eradicated during the radiosurgery and will instead shrink or disappear slowly over time. Gamma Knife treatment plans are sent to referring and consulting physicians with follow-up recommendations. You will have follow-up MRIs and/or CT scans to ensure the treatment was effective. Your treating physician at the Rocky Mountain Gamma Knife Center will let you know how often you may need to follow up with your health care providers.


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