Gamma Knife Therapy Frequently Asked Questions
Find answers here to frequently asked questions about Gamma Knife radiosurgery.
What is Gamma Knife radiosurgery?
Gamma Knife radiosurgery is a gentle, noninvasive treatment for brain tumors and other brain disorders. It doesn’t really use a knife — just tiny beams of radiation.
Neurosurgeons all over the world prefer Gamma Knife radiosurgery, either instead of or in addition to traditional brain surgery and radiation therapy. It’s known for its precision and high success rate. Gamma Knife radiosurgery kills or shrinks brain tumors or stops their growth nearly 90 percent of the time.
And, it can treat even the most challenging, hard-to-reach brain tumors that traditional brain surgery can’t.
Gamma Knife surgery is an outpatient procedure. With no incision, there’s no general anesthesia and no risk of bleeding or infection. Patients can return to normal activities the next day — no months of recovery.
What does Gamma Knife surgery involve?
Gamma Knife surgery is “stereotactic radiosurgery.” That means it uses 3-D positioning tools to shoot a dose of radiation at just the right spot. Radiation can kill brain tumors — or create lesions that control other brain disorders.
To do this, the patient wears a frame over his head during Gamma Knife surgery. The frame helps surgeons pinpoint the exact treatment location and holds the patient’s head still as radiation is delivered.
A team of neurosurgeons, radiation oncologists and radiation physicists uses a computer to carefully plan the amount of radiation needed for the size and shape of the tumor or lesion. Then, the Gamma Knife machine aims hundreds of tiny radiation beams at the spot. Each beam is too weak to damage tissue by itself. But all the beams meet at a target spot, where the radiation combines to damage diseased tissue. Healthy tissue outside the spot isn’t harmed.
Because Gamma Knife is so accurate, patients can receive a full dose of radiation all at once. There is no need to have multiple treatments, as with other types of radiosurgery.
Gamma Knife surgery takes only a few hours, but the results unfold over several weeks or months.
Get more details about having Gamma Knife surgery at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center.
Who is a good candidate for Gamma Knife surgery?
Patients have Gamma Knife radiosurgery to treat conditions including:
- Brain cancer
- Metastatic brain tumors
- Benign brain tumors
- Brain abnormalities, such as arteriovenous malformation (AVM)
- Neurological disorders, such as trigeminal neuralgia
Often, the team at Wake Forest Gamma Knife Center recommends Gamma Knife radiosurgery for patients:
- With brain tumors too difficult to reach with traditional brain surgery
- With brain tumors dangerously close to critical structures, such as the brain stem or optic nerve
- Who aren’t healthy enough to have traditional brain surgery
- Who have had traditional brain surgery that hasn’t worked
- Who have metastatic brain tumors but already are having chemotherapy or radiation therapy for their primary cancer
- Who have metastatic brain tumors that have come back after previous radiation
Even for patients who can have traditional brain surgery, there are many advantages of Gamma Knife radiosurgery, either instead of or in addition to other treatments.
How experienced is Wake Forest Baptist at performing radiosurgery?
Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center has one of the most active Gamma Knife centers in the U.S., with one of the most experienced Gamma Knife treatment teams. Because hundreds of patients come to Wake Forest Gamma Knife Center each year, we’ve learned how to treat even the rarest and most difficult cases that other providers may not see.
Our radiosurgery program was established in 1999 by neurosurgeon Charles L. Branch, MD, and radiation oncologist Edward G. Shaw, MD, who helped establish the Gamma Knife program at Mayo Clinic in 1989. Neurosurgeon Stephen Tatter, MD, was recruited from Harvard Medical School to become co-director of our program.
Today, the specially trained radiation oncologists, neurosurgeons, medical physicists and nurses on our radiosurgery team work together to create custom treatment plans for each patient. Our team members have completed radiosurgery training at prestigious facilities, such as Karolinska University Hospital in Stockholm, Sweden; University of Florida at Gainesville and University of Pittsburgh.
Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center is one of few medical centers funded by the National Cancer Institute to conduct brain cancer research using the world’s most innovative therapies. Our current Leksell Gamma Knife® Perfexion™ machine is the most accurate and advanced radiosurgery technology available.
We are one of only 4 medical centers in the world to be named a Leksell Center of Radiosurgery. We earned this prestigious distinction for pioneering the latest treatment technologies, clinical research, education and outreach.
What research is happening now at Wake Forest?
Wake Forest Gamma Knife Center is home to a broad research program where our physicians and researchers are working to:
- Find ways to more precisely treat targets close to critical brain structures, such as the optic nerve, brain stem and pituitary gland.
- Find drugs that make cancerous brain tumors more sensitive to radiation, making them easier to cure.
- Better understand brain injuries caused by radiation, better treat people who have them, and find ways to prevent them (in collaboration with Wake Forest’s Positron Emission Tomography Center and researchers in our Comprehensive Cancer Center and Center for Investigative Neuroscience).
- Model how Gamma Knife can treat functional disorders, such as Parkinson's disease, tremor, dyskinesia and trigeminal neuralgia.