What Is Gamma Knife?

Gamma Knife® is a type of stereotactic radiosurgery used to treat brain and spine tumours. Radiosurgery is a technique that uses the effectiveness of open brain surgery with the non-invasive nature of high-dose radiation to kill cancer cells with minimal damage to healthy tissues. ‘Stereotactic’ radiosurgery involves directing high-dose radiation to a specific point using an external frame of reference (the head frame).


Since this procedure is non-invasive, it reduces the risks associated with conventional open brain surgery commonly used for treating brain tumours. Gamma Knife® uses computerised treatment planning software to detect, locate and irradiate small tumours in the brain and spinal cord with a high level of precision.


Apart from the brain and upper spine tumours, the Gamma Knife® is also used to treat other benign brain lesions like pituitary adenoma, vestibular schwannoma, meningioma, a few vascular conditions and trigeminal neuralgia. The Gamma Knife® has also been shown to treat metastatic cancers effectively.

Types of Cancers Treated With Gamma Knife

The Gamma Knife® is used to treat brain and spine tumours that include:

  • Primary and metastatic brain tumours
  • Acoustic neuroma (a slow-growing nerve tumour that connects the ear to the brain)
  • Pituitary tumours
  • Other benign growths in the brain


Apart from tumours, Gamma Knife® is also used in the treatment of other brain disorders like:

  • Some types of epilepsy
  • Blood vessel abnormalities
  • Trigeminal neuralgia
  • Parkinson’s disease

Who Is A Candidate For Gamma Knife?

Not every patient or tumour is treated using a Gamma Knife®. Some factors that are used to evaluate a patient’s suitability for Gamma Knife® treatment include:

  • Patients age
  • Overall health
  • Underlying medical conditions
  • Location and size of the tumour or growth
  • History of previous treatments.

Your doctor and healthcare team will first prefer less invasive treatment options based on your tumour before opting for a gamma knife. A Gamma Knife® treatment may be preferred if:

  • Your tumour or lesion is easily identifiable
  • It is a small tumour of vascular formation
  • Traditional surgery is either too risky or hasn’t worked
  • Recurrent metastatic brain tumour

Gamma Knife® treatment is not recommended for tumours larger than 4 to 5 cm in size.

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Gamma Knife Procedure

The Gamma Knife® radiosurgery is an outpatient procedure and may take around four to five hours, depending on your lesion. A typical Gamma Knife® treatment procedure will involve the following steps:

  • A local anaesthetic is applied on two to four spots on your scalp to numb the areas where the head frame attachment will be placed. The local anaesthetic will help ease your anxiety, while the head frame will ensure your head stays still during the radiation delivery.
  • A multidisciplinary team including neurosurgeons, radiologists and others will perform a few imaging tests like MRI and CT scan to assess the precise locations of the lesions in relation to the frame.
  • A personalised radiation treatment plan is created for each lesion that is identified.
  • Once the radiation plan is ready, you will be asked to lie on your back with your head inside the Gamma Knife® machine.
  • You may not hear or feel anything during the radiation process.
  • Once your treatment is completed, you will be taken out of the Gamma Knife® machine, the head frame is removed, and a small dressing is placed on the scalp where the head frame was attached.
  • You can go home after the procedure.

Benefits of Using Gamma Knife In Cancer Treatment

Gamma Knife® treatment is non-invasive and may be preferred over conventional surgery due to its high safety.  Some benefits of using Gamma Knife® treatment include:

  • Safer than traditional open brain surgery
  • Precise targeting of tumour
  • Lesser side effects than conventional radiation therapy
  • Greater efficiency than radiation therapy
  • Allows imaging and treatment on the same day

Side Effects of Gamma Knife

Gamma Knife® is a highly safe procedure performed by trained healthcare professionals. However, the treatment may cause minor side effects in some people:

  • Bruising or tissue damage around the affected area
  • Headache due to the head frame
  • Feeling tired
  • Dizziness
  • Bleeding in the area
  • Sensitivity or tenderness in the skin wounds or operated area

There may be swelling in the operated area in some rare cases that may require additional treatment. But in most cases, the patients can resume their work and routine immediately the next day.

If you have been advised to undergo Gamma Knife® treatment for your brain or spine tumour, discuss any concerns you have with your doctor.

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There are other stereotactic radiation surgery systems, but the Gamma Knife® has a superior edge over them when treating brain lesions with precision while sparing healthy surrounding tissues. The Gamma Knife® is particularly helpful for treating head and neck tumours in children as it shows fewer instances of delayed side effects (if any).

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