1) Why is it called a Gamma Knife?
The Swedish inventor, Professor Lars Leksell, coined this term because the machine utilizes gamma radiation from a cobalt source to destroy tumors or treat other brain pathologies. It acts like a surgeon's scalpel, thus "the Knife" in its ability to precisely conform the radiation to a tumor shape.
2) How long has the Gamma Knife been available?
The Gamma Knife was invented in 1967 in Sweden where the first clinical treatment was delivered. The first U.S. unit was installed in 1988 at the University of Pittsburgh.
3) Can Gamma Knife be used in any other parts of the body besides the brain?
We can treat certain head and neck tumors, but the Gamma Knife cannot treat any pathology below the neck.
4) What are the side effects of the Gamma Knife?
Because there are no incisions during the procedure, the risk of infection, bleeding or spinal fluid leak is almost completely eliminated. The possibility of injury to nearby nerves and brain structures is minimal, but will be discussed by your physician prior to radiosurgery. Typical side effects of radiation treatment, such as hair loss, weakness and seizures are normally avoided, but may possibly occur. Many of these are temporary and can be controlled by medicine.
5) Is the procedure painful?
The actual procedure is painless. A topical anesthetic is applied to the location of the head frame pins and in some cases, patients may experience slight pain, irritation and/or swelling in that location. Some patients may also experience a headache after the procedure. Although rare, some patients may experience nausea.
6) What type of radiation does Gamma Knife treatment involve?
Will the rest of my head receive radiation? The form of radiation used in this treatment is called gamma rays. These are high-energy particles emitted from a cobalt source. All parts of the head and body will receive some dose of radiation but due to the configuration it is a very low dose not known to cause harm. If the tumor or target is located close to the surface of the brain, the skin may receive a high enough radiation dose to cause a small area of hair loss.
7) What are the advantages of the Gamma Knife procedure versus traditional brain surgery?
- Gamma Knife is a neurosurgical tool designed exclusively for the treatment of brain disorders. Specially designed to treat tumors considered untreatable by surgery.
- The lesion being treated receives a high dose of radiation with minimum risk to nearby tissue and structures.
- The cost of Gamma Knife procedure is often 25 to 30 percent less than traditional neurosurgery. Multiple visits to the hospital, operating room and post-operative intensive care costs are not incurred.
- Patients experience little discomfort, minimal recovery time.
- No risk of hemorrhage and infection, which can be caused by an incision.
- Generally, Gamma Knife is an outpatient procedure. Hospitalization will be short, typically an overnight stay, if at all.
8) Is it cost effective?
Cost studies have shown Gamma Knife radiosurgery is less expensive than conventional neurosurgery -- typically as much as 25 to 30 percent less. Multiple visits to the hospital, operating room and post-operative intensive care costs are not incurred. There is no risk of hemorrhage and infection, which can be caused by an incision. Generally, Gamma Knife is an outpatient procedure. Hospitalization will be short, typically an overnight stay, if at all. Gamma Knife treatment is covered by most insurance plans.