The University of Virginia Health System has become the first medical center in the United States, and second worldwide, to offer a new form of gamma knife technology. It allows neurosurgeons to treat more complicated cases of head and neck cancers.
A gamma knife is not really a knife but a beam of gamma rays that delivers radiation to specific areas. This form of non-invasive treatment, known as stereotactic radiosurgery, allows for a much better patient experience and enables patients to go home the same day as their treatment.
For example, in conjunction with three-dimensional imaging (like an MRI), surgeons scan the brain and use the gamma knife to target a tumor with a gamma knife’s 192 radiation beams. Patients are conscious throughout the procedure and it takes approximately 15-40 minutes per session. The University of Virginia Health System has already treated 7,000 patients using this method.
The Elekta Gamma Knife eXtendTM technology takes this procedure one-step further. It can treat tumors and lesions that are too large, or areas that are too sensitive to treat, such as those near the brain stem or too close to the octave nerve. It comprises of a high-tech docking unit and frame system that immobilizes the patient's head for highly accurate treatment. It uses a customizable mouthpiece and headrest for multiple sessions. First, an MRI is taken of the head and then a dental imprint is taken for the mouthpiece. The patient is positioned comfortably on a mattress with a vacuum head rest before the radiation treatment is delivered.
Dr. Jason Sheehan, assistant professor of neurosurgery and radiation oncology at UVA School for Medicine was the first to use the new Gamma Knife eXtendTM system on a patient in January of 2010.
“This technology expands our ability to treat patients with radiosurgery in ways we would not have thought possible five or 10 years ago,” says Sheehan.
“The idea of the eXtendTM system is to afford a very comfortable and accurate way for the patient to get radiosurgery multiple times if needed.