Why Gamma Knife Treatment Is Superior

It is precise

The unit aims sharply focused sources of cobalt-60 photon radiation at variably shaped targets ranging from several millimeters to more than 3 centimeters in diameter. Because the beams focus precisely on the target tissue, effects on surrounding brain and other critical nerve and blood vessel structures are minimized. The dose each patient receives is custom-designed—in consultation with a medical physicist and a radiation oncologist—using high-resolution imaging such as MRIs and powerful dose planning software.

It is safe

The design of the Department of Neurological Surgery’s Gamma Knife units meet rigorous standards for safety and efficacy. Because the radiation falloff is very steep outside the target area, the surrounding brain tissue is spared harmful after effects. Gamma Knife radiosurgery also is safer than many existing procedures because patients need not undergo risky, open-skull procedures, and adult patients do not require general anesthesia. Thus, the Gamma Knife is especially useful when conventional surgical techniques would pose high risk. The Gamma Knife typically delivers its effect during a single procedure lasting 10 to 70 minutes. Television monitoring is used throughout the procedure and two-way voice contact between the physician and the patient is available. Successful Gamma Knife radiosurgery relies on the multidisciplinary skills of an experienced team of radiation oncologists and medical physicists.

More than one million patients have had radiosurgery worldwide. More than 12,000 patients underwent Gamma Knife radiosurgery at UPMC between 1987 and 2013. Gamma Knife radiosurgery has few immediate side effects. Patients usually leave the hospital the same day of the procedure.

It is effective

More than 1,500 patients with AVM have undergone Gamma Knife radiosurgery at UPMC Presbyterian. Seventy to 90 percent of AVMs are completely obliterated within three years. No other surgical procedure has achieved such favorable outcome with so little morbidity.

UPMC physicians have performed Gamma Knife radiosurgery on more than 1,600 patients with acoustic neuroma, a deafness-causing tumor of the sheath of the hearing nerve. Gamma Knife surgery prevented tumor growth in 97 percent of patients, and up to 80 percent of patients retained their hearing on a long-term basis. Recent UPMC studies suggest that Gamma Knife radiosurgery can lengthen life for patients with certain malignant brain tumors as well.