When Brain Surgery Isn’t “Surgery”
It used to be that when a patient received a diagnosis of a brain tumor, or an acoustic neuroma, or any other cyst or cancer growing inside the skull, it meant brain surgery. And that meant shaving your hair, cutting open your head and messing about with the brain that lives inside there. It also meant a long stay in the hospital, a long recovery time, and a big risk that “something” could go wrong. Not anymore.
Gamma knife surgery has replaced the scalpel in many instances of brain tumors and cysts. Even metastatic brain cancers can be treated without ever requiring so much as a band-aid, let alone a bone saw. While the gamma knife isn’t the only treatment option, it has become more and more popular simply because of what it isn’t. And what it isn’t is brain “surgery.”
The gamma knife is actually a system for delivering pin point radiation right through the skull to the site of the tumor or cyst inside. No blood, no bone saw, no opening up of your brain. There’s no long hospital stay, as most gamma knife treatments are done on an out-patient basis. There’s no long recovery time, either. In fact, most patients are able to return to their regular routine within a few days. Gamma knife surgery’s lack of invasiveness is one of the reasons it has grown in popularity for the treatment of certain brain tumors.
Gamma knife works not by removing the tumor or cyst, but rather by stopping its growth and cutting off its blood supply. In the case of most tumors, this leads to a shrinkage of the tumor, sometimes even a dissolving away. There’s no more tumor to worry about, no cyst to cause symptoms. Thus, the patient can lead a normal, pain-free, symptom-free life. In the case of some tumors, such as acoustic neuromas, however, the cyst remains and so do the symptoms. In cases such as these, more traditional surgery may be required to remove the dead tumor.
So, while gamma knife surgery may not qualify as true surgery, it can be just as effective at removing tumors as a threat to health and life as blood-and-brain cutting. And while it may not completely remove the need for more traditional methods, it is certainly a more attractive alternative whenever possible. Oh, and it has just about rendered “inoperable” tumors a thing of the past, as very few tumors are truly out of its reach.