Mya Care Blogger 12 Sep 2023

Gamma knife surgery, a type of stereotactic radiosurgery, utilizes highly focused beams of radiation to treat various conditions in the brain. Unlike traditional surgery, gamma knife surgery is known to penetrate the brain tissue without the need for incisions. Instead, it delivers a precise dose of radiation to the targeted area of the brain while sparing the surrounding healthy tissue. Gamma knife surgery is usually performed on an outpatient basis, taking a few hours to complete, with most patients resuming normal activities within a day or two.[1]

This futuristic, life-saving therapy is best known for treating brain tumors. However, brain tumors are not the only thing it can treat. The below article covers what gamma knife surgery is, how it works and who is eligible for treatment aside from those with brain cancer.

How does Gamma Knife Surgery Work?

Gamma knife surgery works by using a device called a gamma knife machine, which consists of a helmet-like frame that holds hundreds of tiny radiation sources. The frame is attached to the patient’s head using four metal pins that penetrate the skin. The patient then undergoes a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan to create a detailed map of the brain and the location of the condition to be treated. The MRI scan is used to plan the treatment and determine the exact dose and direction of the radiation beams.

The patient is then moved to the treatment room, where the frame is attached to a movable couch that slides into the gamma knife machine. During the procedure, the patient remains awake and alert but may receive a sedative to help them relax. The gamma knife machine then delivers radiation beams to the targeted area of the brain. Treatment can involve a single session or span multiple sessions, depending on the size and shape of the area needing treatment. The radiation beams converge at a single point, creating a high dose of radiation that destroys the abnormal cells or blood vessels while minimizing damage to normal tissue.

The Benefits of Gamma Knife Surgery

Gamma knife surgery has several benefits over traditional surgery, such as:

  • It is minimally invasive and does not require any incisions.
  • It is associated with fewer risks and complications, such as bleeding, infection, or damage to healthy brain tissue.
  • The recovery time is shorter and has less of an impact on the patient’s quality of life.
  • It can treat conditions that are difficult or impossible to reach with conventional surgery, such as deep-seated or multiple brain lesions.
  • It can complement other treatments, such as traditional surgery, chemotherapy, or medication regimens.

What are the Risks of Gamma Knife Surgery?

Gamma knife surgery is generally safe and well-tolerated by most patients, but it may have some risks or side effects, including:

  • Pain, discomfort, swelling, bruising, or infection at the site of the pin insertion or frame attachment.
  • Headache, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, or fatigue after the procedure.
  • Hair loss or skin irritation in the area exposed to radiation.

In rare cases, treatment may induce tumors, malignancies or neurological changes which may be permanent or temporary, such as vision loss, hearing loss, speech impairment, memory loss, or cognitive impairment. These side effects are usually less frequent in those opting for gamma knife surgery than other types of radiosurgery.[2]

The potential risks and side effects involved may vary depending on the type and location of the condition being treated, the dose and duration of radiation exposure, and the patient’s overall health and medical history. Therefore, it is important to consult your doctor about the potential benefits and risks of gamma knife surgery and make an informed decision before undergoing the procedure.

7 Lesser-Known Conditions That Can Be Treated with Gamma Knife Surgery

Besides brain tumors, gamma knife surgery can also treat other conditions that affect the brain or its blood vessels and neurons. Some of these conditions are:

  1. Arteriovenous Malformations

This condition refers to abnormal connections between arteries and veins in the brain that negatively impact cerebral blood circulation. Arteriovenous Malformations (AVMs) can cause bleeding in the brain (hemorrhage), seizures, headaches, or neurological deficits. Gamma knife surgery can shrink or obliterate AVMs[3] by blocking their blood flow and preventing them from bleeding.

  1. Trigeminal Neuralgia

Trigeminal Neuralgia (TN) is a chronic pain syndrome involving one or more branches of the cranial nerve responsible for facial sensation and movement (the trigeminal nerve). It causes sudden episodes of intense pain on one side of the face that can be triggered by touch, chewing, talking, or brushing teeth. Gamma knife surgery can relieve TN pain[4] by damaging the nerve root where it exits from the brainstem.

  1. Acoustic Neuromas

Acoustic Neuromas are benign tumors growing on the vestibulocochlear nerve. Also termed the auditory vestibular nerve, this cranial nerve connects the inner ear to the brain and controls hearing and balance. Acoustic neuromas can cause hearing loss, Tinnitus (ringing in the ear), Vertigo (dizziness), facial numbness, or facial weakness. Gamma knife surgery can stop the growth of acoustic neuromas or shrink them[5] by damaging their cells.

  1. Functional Disorders

Conditions that affect the function of the brain without causing any structural damage are medically referred to as functional disorders. Functional disorders include tremors, Parkinson’s disease, epilepsy, obsessive-compulsive disorder, or depression. Gamma knife surgery can treat functional disorders[6] by creating lesions in specific brain areas linked to the disorder, such as the thalamus, the subthalamic nucleus, or the anterior cingulate cortex. This may help alleviate symptoms or their severity.

  1. Pain Relief

Gamma knife surgery can also be utilized for relieving severe chronic pain[7] that does not respond to other treatments, such as medication, surgery, or nerve blocks. Gamma knife surgery can target pain pathways in the brain or the spinal cord and disrupt the transmission of pain signals. It has been successful in treating chronic pain conditions such as cancer-related pain, phantom limb pain, postherpetic neuralgia (pain after shingles), or trigeminal neuralgia.

  1. Cranial Nerve Disorders

These are conditions that affect one or more of the 12 pairs of nerves that emerge from the base of the brain and control various functions such as vision, smell, hearing, taste, facial expression, swallowing, speech, or eye movement. Cranial nerve disorders can cause symptoms such as double vision, drooping eyelids, facial paralysis, loss of smell, loss of taste, or difficulty swallowing.

Gamma knife surgery can treat cranial nerve disorders such as oculomotor nerve palsy (weakness of eye muscles), facial nerve palsy (weakness of facial muscles), or glossopharyngeal neuralgia[8] (pain in the throat and ear). It achieves this by blocking nerve transmission, shrinking or destroying faulty nerves, or removing growths that may be causing symptoms.

  1. Metastatic Tumors

Metastatic tumors are cancerous growths that spread from the original site of the cancer to other parts of the body, such as the lung, breast, colon, or skin. They can cause symptoms such as headaches, seizures, nausea, vomiting, confusion, or weakness. Gamma knife surgery can treat metastatic tumors[9] by delivering a high dose of radiation that dissolves each tumor while sparing the surrounding normal tissue.


Gamma knife surgery is a minimally invasive procedure that can be used to treat a variety of conditions in the brain aside from brain tumors, such as arteriovenous malformations, trigeminal neuralgia, acoustic neuromas, tremors, Parkinson’s disease, chronic pain and cranial nerve disorders. The treatment is a safe and effective option for many people and is expected to replace traditional surgery in the future. If you are considering gamma knife surgery, talk to your doctor to learn more about the procedure and whether it is right for you.

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