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Insights About Gamma Knife

What conditions does it treat? How does it work?

Author: Alyson McIntosh, MD, is a radiation oncologist with Allentown Radiation Oncology Associates at Lehigh Valley Hospital–Cedar Crest.

When I meet with patients who are potential candidates for Gamma Knife® Icon™ treatment, they often have questions about how it works and why it may be more beneficial than other treatment approaches.

Let’s first talk about what Gamma Knife can treat. This state-of-the-art device offers a nonsurgical way to treat conditions affecting the head or brain. These include cancerous lesions, and noncancerous conditions like trigeminal neuralgia, schwannomas/acoustic neuromas, meningiomas and arteriovenous malformations (AVMs). I work with a specialized team including a neurosurgeon, a medical physicist and trained Gamma Knife nurses.

Although this device has ‘knife’ in its name, no physical cutting is involved. As a radiation oncologist, I use targeted Gamma radiation to destroy certain tissues, such as cancerous growths, or occasionally to create a scar that stops improper nerve messaging.

What is unique about Gamma Knife Icon is the way we can ‘shape’ the radiation. One hundred and ninety-two tiny beams are aimed at the precise location that needs treatment. This allows us to target only the affected area while avoiding surrounding healthy tissues. And, unlike other stereotactic therapies, Gamma Knife Icon only requires one treatment because it is so accurate.

Another advantage is its frameless treatment system, which offers improved patient comfort. You may still require an attached headframe depending on your condition, but more patients can now choose the flexible frameless option.

We will talk in advance about what you can expect during and after treatment. Patients are always happy to learn that Gamma Knife is painless, and most sessions last less than an hour. Following treatment, many say they are tired. I recommend that you listen to your body and rest. Within a day or two, normal energy levels should return.

You also can learn more about Gamma Knife in our informational guide > Download Gamma Knife guide.