Gamma Knife Surgery: 6 Things to Know

  • Doctor
    Important Facts About Gamma Knife Surgery
    Gamma Knife® surgery isn’t actual surgery, and it doesn’t use an actual knife. It’s an extremely advanced way of treating brain tumors and other problems in the brain using radiation from gamma rays. Whether you’re preparing for the procedure or helping a loved one, it helps to understand what it involves. Here's what you need to know about Gamma Knife treatment.
  • Gamma Knife surgery
    1. It uses radiation.
    Instead of a scalpel and other tools, Gamma Knife surgery uses gamma rays to treat a variety of problems in the brain. Hundreds of gamma rays in three dimensions come together to deliver a very intense beam to a specific location. The beam causes brain tumors and other abnormalities, not healthy tissue, to shrink. Gamma Knife is the brand name for a device or system used to deliver radiation therapy. Others are CyberKnife and TrueBeam. The medical term for this treatment is stereotactic radiosurgery.
  • Surgery
    2. It’s safer than brain surgery.
    The Gamma Knife technique is a good choice if you can’t or don’t want to have traditional brain surgery. Traditional surgery involves opening the skull. Risks include infection, bleeding, and complications from anesthesia. Gamma Knife surgery doesn’t have these risks. Swelling, fatigue, and irritation to the scalp are the most common side effects.
  • Brain surgery
    3. It reaches areas that traditional surgery can’t.
    There are several reasons doctors choose Gamma Knife over traditional surgery. The procedure allows your doctor to reach some areas inside your brain that conventional surgical instruments can’t. Doctors can use Gamma Knife surgery on both cancerous and noncancerous tumors. It works for blood vessel abnormalities and chronic facial pain too.
  • Doctor and patient
    4. Preparation is simple.
    As part of your pre-op visit, talk with your doctor about any allergies you have, particularly to iodine. Part of the procedure involves an imaging test, such as an MRI or CT scan, to pinpoint where the gamma rays have to focus. The test may be the day of the procedure or in advance. Some imaging tests use a dye (contrast material) that some people are allergic to. Also, make sure your doctor knows your complete medical history, including if you have a pacemaker or other implant. Leave jewelry and valuables at home. Once you're at the hospital or clinic, you'll need to take off eyeglasses or contact lenses, artificial hairpieces, and dentures. You won’t need to have your head shaved for the procedure. You may get a sedative medication to help you relax.
  • Gamma Knife
    5. You're inside a machine during the procedure.
    For the procedure, you’ll lie on a bed-like table. A frame held in place with pins will surround your head to keep it from moving. A numbing agent on your scalp keeps you from feeling any pain. If you haven't already had the imaging test, it will be the first step of the Gamma Knife procedure. A special helmet goes over the head frame right before the actual procedure starts. The table you're on will then slide into the Gamma Knife machine. Tiny holes in the helmet direct the gamma rays to their target. Once in the machine, you won’t feel anything. An intercom lets you talk to the medical team during the procedure if you need to. Gamma Knife typically takes an hour or less, sometimes as little as 15 minutes.
  • nurse helping discharged patient
    6. Recovery is quick.
    From preparation through recovery, expect to be at the hospital for most of one day. Many people go home the same day as the procedure. Others spend one night in the hospital so the staff can watch over them. Gamma Knife surgery has few risks and side effects are usually minor. After your doctor removes the frame from your head, there might be slight bleeding and some soreness where the pins were. Headache, vomiting and nausea can occur. Your doctor can give you medication to manage those side effects. Once you feel stable, you can eat and drink normally.
6 Things to Know About Gamma Knife Therapy | Cyberknife

About The Author

  1. Brain Stereotactic Radiosurgery. Mayo Clinic.
  2. Stereotactic Radiosurgery (SRS) and Stereotactic Body Radiotherapy (SBRT). Radiological Society of North America.
  3. Gamma Knife. Radiological Society of North America.
  4. Gamma Knife Radiosurgery. Columbia University Department of Neurological Surgery.
  5. Why Gamma Knife Treatment Is Superior. University of Pittsburgh.
  6. Why Am I Hearing So Much About CyberKnife. Memorial Sloan Kettering.
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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2019 Sep 8
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