An alternative to traditional brain surgery, Gamma Knife pinpoints tiny beams of radiation to destroy diseased tissue without harming healthy tissue. There's actually no knife involved - and no incision needed.

Gamma Knife radiosurgery is nearly 90 percent successful in killing or shrinking brain tumors or stopping their growth. And it doesn't hurt or require anesthesia. Treatment takes just one session, and patients can return to normal activities almost immediately.

Gamma Knife is the gold standard of radiosurgery for:

  • Brain cancer
  • Metastatic brain tumors
  • Benign brain tumors
  • Brain abnormalities, such as arteriovenous malformation (AVM)
  • Facial pain

The cost of Gamma Knife surgery is typically half the cost of traditional surgery. That’s partly because Gamma Knife surgery is an outpatient procedure. With no incision, there’s no general anesthesia and no risk of bleeding or infection.

Neurosurgeons all over the world prefer Gamma Knife radiosurgery, either instead of or in addition to traditional neurosurgery and radiation therapy. The Wake Forest Baptist Comprehensive Cancer Center has one of the most active Gamma Knife centers in the U.S., with one of the most experienced Gamma Knife treatment teams.

We've been performing Gamma Knife radiosurgery since 1999 and are one of the 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.

An Introduction to Gamma Knife

Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center is the only center in the region to offer Gamma Knife (Stereotactic Radiosurgery). Gamma Knife is a type of radiation treatment used commonly to treat brain tumors and other abnormal conditions of the head. Gamma Knife is a non-invasive surgical procedure that does not require incisions. Instead, a machine precisely focuses and delivers about 200 beams of radiation on to a target area inside the brain. The radiation only kills abnormal cells while sparing the normal tissue around them.  

How Gamma Knife Surgery Destroys Brain Tumors

Gamma Knife surgery is “stereotactic radiosurgery.” That means it uses 3-D positioning tools to shoot a dose of radiation at precisely the right spot. Radiation can kill brain tumors — or treat lesions that control other brain disorders.

To do this, a 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 the 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 during a single session. 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.

Conditions Treated With Gamma Knife Surgery

  • Brain cancer, including:
    • Astrocytomas
    • Skull base tumors

  • Metastatic brain tumors

  • Benign brain tumors, including:
    • Acoustic neuromas
    • Meningiomas
    • Pituitary tumors

  • Brain abnormalities, including:
    • Arteriovenous malformation (AVM)
  • Neurological disorders, including:
    • Trigeminal neuralgia
    • Dyskinesia
    • Essential tremor
    • Parkinson’s disease

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, our oncologists recommend 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.

Gamma Knife Side Effects

Gamma Knife side effects are few, but may include:

  • Fatigue
  • 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.