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Gamma Knife Radiosurgery FAQ...

What is the Gamma Knife?

The Gamma Knife procedure, a type of stereotactic radiosurgery, bombards lesions with enough radiation to destroy them even in the most critical, difficult-to-access areas of the brain without delivering significant does to healthy normal brain tissue. The Gamma Knife delivers a high dose of ionizing radiation emanating from 201 cobalt-60 sources. Faster and more precise than other radiosurgical tools currently available, the Gamma Knife treatment team guides the radiation to a target previously defined by advanced imaging techniques. The 201 individual beams simultaneously intersect with the accuracy of less than one-tenth of a millimeter (about the thickness of a sheet of paper). Referred to as "surgery without a scalpel," the Gamma Knife procedure does not require an incision or opening the skull.

Used successfully for over 30 years, the Gamma Knife procedure is available at 39 centers nationwide and 92 worldwide.

What does the Gamma Knife procedure involve?

It’s an outpatient procedure which allows patients to go home in about half a day. Only a single treatment is needed. The Gamma Knife treatment itself takes about an hour on average.

Patients can usually return to their normal routine within a day of the procedure. Over 95% of patients are treated on an ambulatory basis and do not require hospitalization. In addition to the other benefits of this non-invasive procedure, use of the Gamma Knife may be more cost-effective than conventional surgery. Also, much of the disability and convalescence associated with conventional surgery is avoided.

Who is a good candidate for the Gamma Knife procedure?

It can be used to successfully treat primary and metastatic malignant brain tumors and other common benign abnormalities of the brain, including brain arteriovenous malformations, acoustic tumors, meningiomas, pituitary adenomas, craniopharyngiomas and others. It was originally designed to make lesions in the brain to treat tremor and Parkinson's disease and has recently been used to successfully treat trigeminal neuralgia. Lesions that are otherwise considered inoperable or inaccessible can often be treated successfully.

The Gamma Knife has better than a 90 percent success rate for lesions most commonly treated with radiosurgery. Recently reported results of a national research study conducted by the Radiation Therapy Oncology Group, demonstrated a three-fold advantage for Gamma Knife-treated patients with recurrent cancerous brain tumors in comparison to those treated with other radiosurgical tools now available. Edward G. Shaw, M.D., Chairman of the Department of Radiation Oncology at Wake Forest University School of Medicine, was principal investigator for the study.

Radiosurgery at Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center

Radiosurgery has been performed at the Medical Center for 10 years in a program established by neurosurgeon Charles Branch, M.D.. The Medical Center currently operates the largest and busiest radiosurgery program in North Carolina.

The 18-ton Gamma Knife will be installed in the summer of 1999 as a major component of the Medical Center’s Comprehensive Brain Tumor Treatment and Research Programs. The Medical Center is a member of New Approaches to Brain Tumor Therapy (NABTT) consortium, a group of nine East Coast academic medical centers funded by the National Cancer Institute (NCI) to conduct brain cancer research using the most innovative therapies available in the world.

The programs are coordinated under the leadership of David L. Kelly Jr., M.D., Chairman of the Department of Neurosurgery, Glenn J. Lesser, M.D. of the Comprehensive Cancer Center of Wake Forest University and Edward G. Shaw, M.D., Chairman of the Department of Radiation Oncology.

Dr. Shaw and J. Daniel Bourland, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Radiation Oncology, and head of the Radiation Physics Section, helped establish a Gamma Knife Program at the Mayo Clinic in 1990. Dr. Stephen Tatter, a neurosurgeon and co-director of the Gamma Knife Center, was recruited from Harvard Medical School to oversee the new unit.

In addition, the Medical Center’s Gamma Knife team includes , Charles L. Branch Jr., M.D., Professor of Neurosurgery , Kenneth E. Ekstrand, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Radiation Oncology, Allan F. deGuzman, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Radiation Oncology, and Joyce Moser, R.N., N.P.-C, a certified nurse practitioner in the Department of Neurosurgery.

Research programs

A broad research Program has been established as part of the Gamma Knife Center. Researchers intend to:


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