PHILADELPHIA – Gamma Knife radiosurgery has provided patients with intractable facial pain, including trigeminal neuralgia; arteriovenous malformations (AVMs), abnormal tangles of arteries and veins in the brain and cancerous and benign tumors of the brain with an alternative, less-invasive treatment option to complex surgery or whole brain radiation.
Now celebrating its 10th year, the Penn Gamma Knife Center has most notably become the standard of care across Penn Medicine as an alternative to the surgical removal and conventional radiation of cancerous and non-cancerous tumors of the brain resulting from brain cancer or lung, breast, melanoma and other cancers which have spread to the brain.
Gamma Knife radiosurgery differs from conventional surgery in that it is a “blade-free” procedure. The technology, an MRI-like machine which envelopes only the head, uses approximately 200 simultaneous painless, precise and targeted radiation beams pointed deep within the brain to shrink or destroy diseased or damaged and often cancerous lesions, leaving the surrounding tissue unaffected, protecting many normal brain functions.
“More than half of our patients come to us with a cancer diagnosis as compared to 10 years ago when only one-third of the patients we treated had cancer, demonstrating the increasing role of Gamma Knife in managing patients with a variety of cancer diagnoses in a less invasive manner that allows for an improved quality of life over brain surgery or whole brain radiation,” said John Y.K. Lee, MD, MSCE, an associate professor of Neurosurgery at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania and director of Penn’s Gamma Knife Program, which is located at Pennsylvania Hospital. The center has treated 2,300 patients to date.
Lee works in partnership with Penn neuroradiologists, otorhinolaryngologists (ENT), radiation oncologists, and medical oncologists from the Abramson Cancer Center.
The Gamma Knife is able to treat patients with a small number of brain metastases, saving them from the memory loss and side effects that often come with whole brain radiation. “Whole brain radiation is now reserved for those we are not able to treat with Gamma Knife: patients with very large brain tumors or with more than 10 to 15 brain metastases from cancers that originated outside of the brain but often spread to the brain in more advanced stages,” Lee explained.
Penn’s Gamma Knife center is the busiest in the region and was one of the first to promote Gamma Knife radiosurgery for this use.
In addition to treating patients with brain cancer and brain metastases, Gamma Knife also provides a less invasive option for the treatment of the painful facial nerve disorder, trigeminal neuralgia. Lee and colleagues are able to focus its concentrated radiosurgical beams on a single point within the nerve to block the transmission of pain signals, resulting in minimal damage to the normal tissue surrounding it.
The treatment can be completed in one visit, another benefit to patients and their families.
“This technology is all about maintaining quality of life for patients,” Lee said.