How Gamma Knife Surgery Destroys Brain Tumors
Gamma Knife surgery is “stereotactic radiosurgery.” It uses 3-D positioning tools—a head frame and treatment-planning software—to deliver a precise, targeted dose of radiation to kill brain tumors or create lesions that control other brain disorders.
The head frame not only immobilizes the patient’s head during treatment, it provides a 3-D reference, visible on imaging equipment, to help surgeons pinpoint the treatment target. The head frame attaches to a treatment helmet, which directs the hair-width radiation beams from the Gamma Knife machine. Each beam is too weak to damage tissue by itself, but when beams intersect at the target, the combined radiation damages diseased tissue, while minimizing radiation to healthy tissue.
Minimizing radiation is important for everyone, but especially for cancer patients who are receiving other radiotherapy treatments — or even chemotherapy, with which full-brain radiation could be toxic. Patients with metastatic brain tumors can have Gamma Knife treatment concurrently with treatments for their primary cancer.
Because Gamma Knife is so accurate, patients can receive a full dose of radiation in one visit. There is no need for multiple visits, as with linear accelerator (linac) treatments.
Gamma Knife surgery takes only a few hours, but the results unfold over several weeks or months.
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