Having the Gamma Knife Procedure at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center
What to Expect
Gamma Knife surgery takes about 4 to 8 hours. Here’s what patients can expect:
- Patients typically arrive at Wake Forest Gamma Knife Center at 6:45 am.
For out-of-town patients, we try to schedule surgery the day after their initial consultation. That way, they can be fully treated in one trip.
- First, the patient’s scalp is cleaned with alcohol. Patients don’t need to have their head shaved.
- Then, they are fitted with a lightweight head frame, which ensures the radiation hits just the right spot and helps patients keep their head still during treatment. The frame attaches to their scalp with 4 pins. Medication is injected to numb the skin where the pins are inserted: 2 in the front, 2 in the back of the head. When the frame is attached, the patient will feel pressure but should not feel pain.
- The patient’s head measurements are recorded. Then, the patient has an MRI scan to help the surgical team identify the treatment location. Sometimes a CT scan or angiogram is also used.
- Images are sent to a Gamma planning computer, where a team of neurosurgeons, radiation oncologists and radiation physicists plans how much radiation to use. This planning can take up to 3 hours, depending on the size and location of the tumor or lesion. Meanwhile, the patient waits in the Day Hospital and can eat, visit with family, walk around or rest.
- Once treatment plans are set, the patient goes to the Gamma Knife unit and lies down on the treatment table. The patient’s head frame is attached to the table. Then, the table moves the patient to the correct location so the lesion(s) can be treated with the radiation beams.
The patient is awake during treatment and does not feel or hear anything unpleasant. The surgical team observes the patient on a closed-circuit television. The team and patient can talk to each other through an intercom.
This part of the treatment lasts between 30 minutes and 3 hours, depending on how much radiation is needed.
- After surgery, the head frame and pins are removed. Most patients go home after being checked by medical staff. Some patients have a mild headache or minor swelling where the head frame was attached, but most don’t. Usually, patients can return to normal activities the next day.
- Since there’s a small chance that a brain tumor will grow back or a new one will develop, patients will have regular MRI scans and checkups with their doctor after Gamma Knife surgery.
Gamma Knife Side Effects
Gamma Knife side effects are few, but may include:
Swelling in the brain — Depending on the site, swelling can cause symptoms such as headache, nausea and vomiting. Prescription medication can help relieve it.
Irritated scalp, where the head frame and pins were attached
Hair loss — This side effect is rare and temporary.
Side effects vary by type and location of brain tumor or disorder. Patients should ask their doctor about ways to prevent them.