Gamma Knife ©: What is Radiosurgery?

Shannon Kahn, MDRadiosurgery, also known as stereotactic radiosurgery and stereotactic radiation therapy, is a non-invasive, outpatient alternative to traditional brain surgery (neurosurgery). It’s performed by a machine called Gamma Knife©, which isn’t a knife in the traditional sense; rather it uses 192 precisely-focused beams of radiation to target and destroy tumors without damaging surrounding healthy tissue.

In clinical use since 1968 [1], Gamma Knife© is used largely to treat cancerous brain tumors. It is also used to treat benign brain tumors such as pituitary tumors, meningiomas and acoustic neuromas, which are tumors related to balance and hearing. Gamma Knife has also proven effective in treating functional neurologic disorders such as trigeminal neuralgia.

“Gamma Knife© is an unparalleled technology that has extensive research supporting its effectiveness and safety. Being able to offer this treatment and expertise to our patients at Emory Saint Joseph’s Hospital is a unique strength of our program in which we take great pride,” said Shannon Kahn, MD, radiation oncologist at Emory Saint Joseph’s Hospital.

The procedure offers an alternative for patients with tumors too small or too hard to reach surgically, patients who aren’t well enough to undergo traditional surgery, or patients who just prefer a less invasive treatment. Gamma Knife © also provides an alternative to whole-brain radiation in some cases, which can decrease the cognitive and memory problems often associated with more traditional radiation treatments.

Patients receive brain scans to pinpoint the exact location and amount of radiation that will be administered. A lightweight frame is attached to the head with four pins. Local anesthetic is used, but the patient remains awake during the procedure, which is painless and lasts from a few minutes to several hours, depending on size and location of their tumor(s).

Radiosurgery is covered by most insurance providers as well as Medicaid and Medicare, and has a very quick recovery time.

Dr. Khan notes that side effects are usually minimal. “Some patients may experience a slight headache following the procedure, but patients go home the same day and are typically back to their normal routines by the next day.”

The goal of Gamma Knife© therapy is to damage the atypical or cancerous cells and prevent them from multiplying, while preserving the healthy tissue. Malignant tumors may decrease in size over a period of a few months while the goal for benign tumors is typically tumor stabilization.

Learn more about Gamma Knife© radiosurgery at Emory Saint Joseph’s Hospital.

To contact a Gamma Knife© nurse navigator, call 678-843-5513.

[1] “Why Gamma Knife® surgery?”


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