Gamma Knife Stereotactic Radiosurgery
Doctors at Children’s Health use advanced stereotactic radiation technology to help children who have certain conditions that affect the brain. We’re the region’s only medical center performing this brain surgery on infants and children.
Our expertise in stereotactic radiosurgery, combined with our involvement in clinical trials and research and our multidisciplinary teams, means that your child has access to innovative treatments and tools. We will create a treatment plan tailored to their unique needs, with the goal to make their life better.
What is Gamma Knife Stereotactic Radiosurgery?
Gamma Knife® stereotactic radiosurgery is actually a form of radiation therapy – not surgery. Despite the Gamma Knife name, doctors don’t use a knife. Instead, during Gamma Knife treatment, a computer-programmable device delivers hundreds of precisely focused gamma rays (radiation beams) to the brain and spinal cord.
These rays target tumor cells and gradually shrink tumors until they go away. We also use this therapy to treat arteriovenous malformations (AVMs), a condition where abnormal blood vessels in the brain can bleed causing damage or death. Gamma Knife procedures target these vessels, so they close up over time, preventing future problems.
We’re able to accomplish all of this without opening up a child’s skull and physically touching the brain.
This approach allows us to target problems like brain tumors without injuring nearby areas. Children recover faster and return to their on-the-go lives quickly.
Our doctors are leading the way in pediatric Gamma Knife radiosurgery. One way we’re doing this is through increasing patient comfort by sometimes using a face mask instead of the traditional metal frame to keep children still during the procedure. When appropriate, we spread out the radiation dose over a series of days to further minimize damage to surrounding tissue. This approach is a new way to use Gamma Knife, and we’re among the first to offer it for children.
What conditions does Gamma Knife Stereotactic Radiosurgery treat?
Children’s Health℠ has the latest Gamma Knife technology. Our doctors use this technology to treat:
- Arteriovenous fistulas (AVFs)
- Arteriovenous malformations (AVMs)
- Malignant brain tumors like anaplastic astrocytomas, metastatic tumors and ependymomas
- Noncancerous brain tumors like pituitary lesions and acoustic neuromas
- Hypothalamic hamartomas
What are the benefits of Gamma Knife Stereotactic Radiosurgery?
Stereotactic radiosurgery is a less invasive way to treat certain brain conditions, like tumors. Doctors do not have to remove a piece of the skull and expose the brain. Gamma Knife is one form of stereotactic radiosurgery, delivering over 200 targeted beams of radiation through the skull to a treatment site. The beams precisely hit a defined area of the brain. With this approach, we are able to protect a larger area of healthy brain tissue from damaging radiation.
Children who undergo Gamma Knife radiosurgery also benefit from:
- Fast recovery: Children go home the same day.
- No surgical incision: There’s little, if any, risk of infection. The procedure is relatively painless.
- Quick return to activities: Most children can resume all activities within 24 hours.
What are the side effects of Gamma Knife Stereotactic Radiosurgery?
There are far fewer side effects and risks of radiosurgery because it does not involve surgically opening up the skull and exposing the brain. Some will experience mild headaches, fatigue and tingling sensations on the scalp. With any type of radiation, there is the potential for rare, late side effects:
- Radiation necrosis, damage to surrounding brain tissue that can cause neurologic deficits, seizures and headaches.
- Cyst formation
What are Children's Health's outcome metrics for Gamma Knife Stereotactic Radiosurgery?
Our doctors have decades of experience using stereotactic radiosurgery on all parts of a child’s body, not just the brain. We put our years of knowledge to work when customizing a treatment plan that helps your child.
We have had great success using Gamma Knife on children of all ages, even infants younger than 1 years old.
Our successes include:
- A greater than 90% success rate using a single session of Gamma Knife to treat certain AVMs in children.
- Ability to use radiosurgery to treat some large AVMs that other centers consider untreatable.
What should you expect with Gamma Knife Stereotactic Radiosurgery?
Traditional Gamma Knife radiosurgery uses a metal frame to prevent head movement during the procedure. At Children’s Health, we can sometimes use a soft, customized face mask instead of the frame. The mask is more comfortable for your child and does not cause bruising, bleeding or pain.
During the procedure, your child lies on a bed that positions the head inside a tunnel-like machine. The machine delivers the radiation. Depending on the problem, radiation delivery may take 30 to 90 minutes. The entire process - from presurgical preparation to postsurgical recovery - can take all day.
What should you expect after Gamma Knife Stereotactic Radiosurgery?
Your child goes home the same day of the procedure. Children rarely experience pain or discomfort. Most children return to their usual activities within 24 hours, including school and sports.
Your child will need to return to Children’s Health for follow-up care. It can take up to three years for AVMs to completely go away after Gamma Knife treatment. Your child may need to get MRIs every six months until the vascular problem is gone.
Tumors can take several months to shrink or stop growing. Our Brain Tumor Treatment Program provides follow-up care.
What questions should I ask my provider about Gamma Knife Stereotactic Radiosurgery?
While a Gamma Knife procedure has fewer risks than traditional surgery, it is still important to ask questions to help you understand the treatment and why your child needs it. We want you to feel confident when making this treatment decision for your child.
Some questions to ask your child’s doctor include:
- How many Gamma Knife procedures have you performed for my child’s specific condition?
- What were the procedure outcomes?
- What outcome should I expect for my child?
- Are there other treatment options for my child’s condition?
- How soon will I be able to see my child after treatment?
- How soon after treatment can my child go home?
- What should I expect during my child’s recovery?
- What signs of complications should I look out for?
Frequently Asked Questions
Is Gamma Knife stereotactic radiosurgery painful?
No, Gamma Knife is generally painless. Some may experience mild headache or a tingling sensation on the scalp. Others may experience fatigue, nausea or vomiting related to the anesthesia used during the procedure.
How many Gamma Knife treatments does my child need?
Traditionally, Gamma Knife radiosurgery delivered a high dose of radiation in one session. This is still the chosen treatment for many conditions. Depending on your child’s unique circumstances, we may deliver smaller radiation doses over several days or weeks. This is known as fractionated treatment. We are pioneering new ways of using this type of therapy for certain conditions.