When radiosurgery was developed in 1965, no one knew the impact it would have on the lives of those with brain tumors and lesions. While traditional radiation therapy and surgical treatments came with a whole host of side effects and risks, this cutting-edge procedure could safely and effectively treat anomalies deep within the brain without making a single cut.
Designed by a neurosurgeon in Sweden, it focused safe doses of radiation on a single point from multiple angles. Where these beams intersected formed, essentially, a radiation knife that was originally used to treat severe pain by focusing on a tiny area of the brain. Further study found that, while it was somewhat successful in the treatment of pain, it was a noninvasive and effective way to treat small brain tumors.
Radiosurgery eventually found its way to the United States in 1987. In 1988, I personally modified a standard hospital radiation machine to perform these procedures, making myself and UCSF one of the first hospitals and radiation oncologists in the country to offer this innovative and life-changing treatment.
Since then, the equipment and techniques we use to operate have grown exponentially more sophisticated. At Washington Hospital’s Taylor McAdam Bell Neuroscience Institute, we were the third hospital in the world to offer Leksell Gamma Knife Perfexion procedures, a form of stereotactic radiosurgery (which means, approaching the treatment area from three dimensions).
Considered the gold standard in radiosurgery, Gamma Knife Perfexion is used to treat many serious neurological disorders affecting the brain, including malignant and benign tumors, metastatic brain tumors, arteriovenous malformations and trigeminal neuralgia.
The procedure itself uses 192 Cobalt-60 gamma ray beams to destroy growths and lesions with pinpoint accuracy. While a single beam of radiation can pass through tissue without harm, the point at which these multiple beams intersect allow us to treat tumors virtually anywhere within the brain without making a single incision or harming the healthy tissue around the treatment site.
Prior to treatment, patients are fitted with a lightweight frame that keeps their head stable for the duration of the procedure. In fact, the procedure itself is mapped out around the frame; images of the treatment area ¬¬are taken while wearing the frame, serving as a fixed point of reference throughout the procedure.
From there, a team of neurosurgeons, radiation oncologists and medical physicists work together to develop a treatment plan, while highly specialized radiation oncology nurses work with patients and their families before, during and after the procedure. This comprehensive, team approach allows us to customize treatment and dosage for individual patients with precision, reducing complications and improving outcomes.
Fast, noninvasive and painless, patients are in and out in of their one day session in a matter of hours and resume normal activities that same afternoon or the very next day – I’ve even had patients that felt well enough after treatment to go out to dinner with their families that very same evening!
Depending on the tumor or lesion growth rate, shrinkage can take anywhere from a few months to a few years and can prevent tumor regrowth in 75 to 95 percent of cases. Should a tumor regrow, the noninvasive nature of the Gamma Knife procedure means that it can be repeated without the toxicity and side effects of radiating the whole brain.
Washington Hospital’s Gamma Knife Program has built its world-renowned team around achieving effective results while creating a comfortable, convenient environment for our patients. While some brain tumors can only be treated through traditional surgical means, we’re here to educate patients and non-patients alike on the risks and outcomes one can expect with radiosurgery, like Gamma Knife Perfexion.
If you have a brain tumor and/or other brain lesion, and are interested in learning if Gamma Knife is a treatment option for you, contact your neurologist or the Taylor McAdam Bell Neuroscience Institute at Washington Hospital.