During gamma knife radiosurgery, experts use intense beams of gamma rays to treat brain tumors and neurological conditions. As a type of radiation therapy, the procedure does not use traditional surgery nor an actual knife. Our team of expert radiation oncologists and neurosurgeons at Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center and UHealth use gamma knife radiosurgery to successfully treat a variety of conditions that affect the brain.
What Conditions Does Gamma Knife Radiosurgery Treat?
Gamma knife radiosurgery can be used to treat a variety of conditions, including:
- Blood vessel malformations: a cluster of abnormal blood vessels that connect arteries and veins within the brain
- Brain tumor: an abnormal growth in the brain that can impact normal brain function
- Epilepsy: nervous system disorder that causes ongoing seizures
- Parkinson’s disease: progressive disorder that causes problems with movement
- Trigeminal neuralgia: chronic (long-lasting) pain condition that affects the nerve that carries sensation from your face to the brain, called the trigeminal nerve
Who is a Candidate?
If you have one of the neurological conditions listed above, you may be a candidate to undergo gamma knife radiosurgery. Your doctor will be able to advise you.
What to Expect
You may undergo gamma knife radiosurgery on an outpatient basis — meaning you’ll return home the same day of your procedure — or you may receive it as an inpatient in the hospital (staying overnight). You will likely be under light anesthesia for the procedure, meaning that you’ll be given medicine to help you relax.
Once the anesthesia has taken effect and you are laying on the operating table, your head will be placed in either a box-shaped head frame or a custom-made face mask. The frame or mask ensures that your head remains completely still during the procedure.
Your neurosurgeon begins by taking imaging of your brain using computerized tomography (CT) scan or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). After the brain imaging is complete, you can relax while your neurosurgical team formulates your gamma ray treatment plan. This typically takes 30 to 90 minutes, depending on the complexities of your condition. Once your treatment plan is determined, the team inputs specific instructions into a computer system that controls the gamma rays, which ensures pinpoint accuracy and precision specific to your condition and individual needs.
Once the specialized computer has been programmed with the details of your gamma ray treatment, you will be taken to the surgical room with the gamma knife machine. You will lie down on a sliding table with your head towards the machine. A surgical tech or nurse will then slowly slide your head into the opening of the gamma knife machine.
A treatment session lasts anywhere from 15 minutes to a few hours. During treatment, gamma rays will pinpoint the areas of the brain that is affected by the tumor or neurological condition. You shouldn’t feel anything during the treatment. Throughout the entire treatment, your neurosurgeon and team will monitor you within the gamma knife machine via live video feed and intercom. The machine is silent, and you won’t hear anything as your treatment occurs. Once your treatment is complete, you will slide out of the machine, and your head frame or facemask will be removed.
When your procedure is outpatient, you can expect to spend a couple of hours at the hospital for careful observation, and should bring a responsible adult with you to drive you home. In most cases, you can resume your normal activities later that same day. You can resume strenuous exercise within 24 hours. You may experience some mild side effects, including headache, nausea, numbness or weakness in your face, balance problems, or vision problems. Your neurosurgeon may be able to prescribe medicine to help.
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