Gamma Knife Surgery is not really surgery as you know it. There is no knife, no scalpel. Why did they name it Gamma Knife Surgery? Beats me. But I can tell you it’s an effective tool. Take it from someone who has had their head opened up more than once. Gamma Knife patients usually waltz out of the hospital the same day and still have their hair. I walked, or rather walked gingerly to my car the week after each of my craniotomies. And my head was shaved which did not qualify me as a fashion diva. So it’s worth the effort to see if your brain tumor or brain disorder qualifies for gamma knife surgery.
It is important to note that Gamma Knife (GK) and Cyber Knife are not the same thing. The GK was specifically created, designed and built to treat brain tumors and disorders. The cyber knife was not. There are other distinctions, however, this will focus on the benefits of gamma knife and what to look for in terms of good GK treatment.
Gamma Knife is a life-saving treatment for patients previously considered untreatable
Many brain tumors and disorders that did not qualify as a Gamma Knife procedure in 1999 or 2000 when I had my surgery. But many of those do now. Many who have been diagnosed with inoperable brain tumors or inoperable neurological disorders can be treated with the GK. Patients who could not undergo the risk of a craniotomy now have this as an option.
How does it work?
Basically GK is a non-invasive, outpatient procedure that focuses extremely precise cobalt radiation beams on the target area. Patients wear a Collimator, a sort of helmet that has little holes in it. Beams of radiation are focused through these holes in the collimator.
Individual beams are too weak to damage healthy tissue, but very powerful when they simultaneously merge at a single focal point. In particular, GK is a very effective tool in the treatment of Trigeminal Neuralgia, a nerve disorder that causes intense facial pain.
GK treatment is designed to stop the growth of tumors or lesions, which means that the effect will happen over a period of weeks or months. It is usually more immediate in the treatment of trigeminal neuralgia. Your doctor will stay in contact with you to assess your progress, which may include follow-up MRI, CT or angiography images to assess the effectiveness.
What can GK be used to treat?
Determining whether or not you are a candidate for GK treatment is up to your doctor or team of doctors. But Gamma Knife treatment has been successfully used for the following:
o Trigeminal Neuralgia (TN)
o Benign Brain Tumors–meningiomas, pituitary tumors, acoustic neuromas
o Intracranial tumors
o Arteriovenous Malformation (AVM)
o Metastatic brain disease
o Research is being done for Parkinson’s, epilepsy, chronic pain & glaucoma
The Advantages of Gamma Knife Surgery
Since there is no incision, the risks of infection, hemorrhage and adverse reactions to anesthesia are minimal. Most patients receive only local anesthesia and a mild sedative. No anesthesia means patients are up and about quicker. Here are other benefits:
o Surrounding tissue is spared from unnecessary radiation.
o Gamma Knife surgery is often more cost-effective because recovery time is reduced. Most patients leave the hospital on the same day as the treatment. (Medicare and most insurance companies cover this treatment.)
o Patients experience little, if any, discomfort during and after this minimally invasive procedure.
What to look for in a Gamma Knife Treatment Center
Not every city has a Gamma Knife Center. So it may mean traveling out of your city or state. So your first step should be to find out what insurance will pay for and if you need to make an appeal for a particular center.
Your doctor’s office will often know what centers have good outcomes and experience and can assist in the insurance approval process. If you are having difficulty with insurance approval, don’t hesitate to ask for assistance from the originating physician or from the center where you wish to have your treatment.
Here are some other things you might want to look for in a treatment center:
oPhysician experience. You want to know that the surgeon performing gamma knife is not out on his maiden voyage.
oA team of specialists and a comprehensive treatment plan. A good center will develop a treatment plan for a patient depending on many factors and may include consults from neurosurgeons, oncologists, interventional radiologists to name a few.
oLook for a center that has more recent technology-a 4th generation or greater. The GK technology has been around a while so it is hardly in a prototype state.
oA treatment center than is a Gamma Knife Host site. There is Peace of Mind when you’re at a center that sets a standard for Gamma Knife Surgery. The manufacturer designates some centers as “host sites”, meaning they are models by which they’d like other centers to follow.
oThere is complementary technology available on site. Is there a PET scanner, a CT scanner, Digital angiography, 3DRA, a trilogy? A full suite of neurosurgery and oncology technology means it’s a place dedicated to neurological and oncology treatment. It means there are more resources in terms of technology and physician experience.
oComprehensive treatment plans. You are looking for a center that offers the most possible treatment options in one place. Going from one city to the next is inconvenient and stressful. Not only that, it’s unnecessary today. –For example, if you seek treatment for trigeminal neuralgia, you would want to know if they offer gamma knife, medication options, glycerol injections and microvascular decompression.
Twenty years ago, a patient would have had to have divine intervention to leave the hospital the very same day he or she had brain surgery. The gamma knife makes this possible for over 30,000 patients every year. So if you are a candidate for gamma knife, you may not be in the kind of shape it takes to put together a thanksgiving feast, but you can certainly enjoy dinner at home. Even desert if you want.