Imagine heading out of the house in the morning, having brain surgery during the day — and arriving home in time for dinner. That’s possible today with Gamma Knife surgery, a minimally invasive, targeted therapy that delivers radiation into a specific area of the brain.
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Neurosurgeon Gene Barnett, MD, says for many years the first thing people would ask him if they were told they’d need brain surgery was, “Do you have to cut me open?”
Now, more and more, the answer is no.
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How does Gamma Knife work?
The Gamma Knife is a machine that uses gamma radiation to destroy and disrupt brain tumors in a highly controlled way. Because its radiation beams are so concentrated, exposure to surrounding tissue is minimal.
“Gamma Knife is often equal or superior to regular brain surgery in effectiveness, is virtually painless and has fewer complications,” says Dr. Barnett, who is part of a team of radiation physicians and surgeons in Cleveland Clinic’s Gamma Knife Center where more than 5,000 procedures have been performed since 1997.
“Most patients don’t feel anything during the treatment or recovery,” he says. “Ninety-nine percent come in the morning, get the procedure and go home later that day.”
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6 steps to Gamma Knife surgery
What happens during Gamma Knife surgery?
1. Your head is secured. Before the Gamma Knife procedure (and if necessary before the preceding MRI or CT scan), you are fitted with a head frame to serve as a reference for doctors performing the procedure.
2. You receive MRI and CT scans. These scans give the surgical team a computerized mapping of your brain.
3. You are placed in the Gamma Knife machine. After the Gamma Knife team reviews the mapping and determinse the plan of treatment, you’ll lie down on a robotic bed, which slides into the Gamma Knife machine.
4. You receive targeted radiation. Radiation is delivered directly to the targeted areas through openings inside the machine. The treatment period ranges from 15 minutes to a few hours.
5. You are observed. After treatment, the frame is removed and you are observed for a half-hour to an hour at the treatment center before you go home.
6. You come back for follow-up. It may take weeks or months to see the effect of the treatment on the tumor. You’ll be asked to come in after one or two months to assess the effects of the treatment.
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Gamma Knife vs. traditional surgery
Unlike traditional surgery, gamma knife surgery:
- Is minimally invasive with no incision
- Is an option for tumors located deep in the brain that can’t be reached by traditional surgery
- Rarely requires an overnight hospital stay
- Often offers lower risk and complication rates than traditional surgery
- Causes little or no-post operative discomfort or pain
- Allows for a quick return to normal activities, with no need for physical therapy or other rehab
Not every patient is a candidate for Gamma Knife surgery. The surgery is best for smaller tumors, and success rates vary with the types of tumors treated. But, depending on the condition, success rates can be as high as 70 to 90 percent.
Gamma Knife can treat some other neurological disorders including blood vessel malformations, trigeminal neuralgia and some disorders of movement.