Radiosurgery Treatment for Brain Tumors
At the Swedish Radiosurgery Center, radiation oncologists and neurosurgeons have the option of using either CyberKnife or Gamma Knife stereotactic radiosurgery to treat brain tumors. Both of these technologies are able to target the tumor with extreme precision. This level of accuracy minimizes the risk of radiation affecting the nearby normal brain.
About brain tumors
Brain tumors are named after the location in which they are found or the type of cell that is involved. Brain tumors may be:
- Benign (an abnormal growth of cells that is not cancer)
- Malignant (cancer)
- Recurrent or residual
Regardless of whether the tumor is benign or malignant, a brain tumor can be life threatening and should be treated.
As it grows, a brain tumor can press on sensitive areas of the brain or skull, or on nerves, or veins and arteries carrying blood to and from the brain. Brain tumors may cause headaches, vision, balance and hearing problems, and they can disrupt other functions of the body.
The most common brain tumor is a glioma. The name glioma comes from the type of cells that are affected – the glial cells. Glial cells are found in the brain and spinal cord. They are nerve cells, but they do not carry signals to and from the brain the way neurons do. Instead, glial cells primarily provide physical and nutritional support so the neurons can do their job. During the last few decades researchers have begun to identify other other purposes for glial cells. There are several types of glial cells, which comprise about 90% of the brain’s cells.
Some gliomas may be benign; however, gliomas account for 80% of malignant brain tumors.
Although a malignant brain tumor may spread to the spinal cord, it rarely spreads outside the brain or spinal cord. Malignant brain tumors include tumors such as: glioblastoma multiforme, oligodendroglioma and astrocytoma
Benign brain tumors
A tumor that is benign does not contain any cancer cells. A benign brain tumor occurs when otherwise normal brain cells grow in an abnormal way and form a mass of cells. A benign tumor does not act like a cancerous brain tumor:
- It usually does not spread beyond the immediate area
- It does not invade other tissue
- Once treated with surgery or radiosurgery, it rarely comes back
Benign brain tumors include: meningioma, acoustic neuroma (also called schwannoma), pituitary adenoma, hemangioblastoma, craniopharygioma and choroid plexus papilloma. These tumors are named according to their locations.
Recurrent or residual brain tumors
After being surgically removed or treated with radiation or chemotherapy, a malignant tumor will go into a period of remission – a time when cancer cells are not growing or spreading. Sometimes, however, the cancer cells will begin to grow again after remission. These cancer cells may begin to grow in the same location or they may spread to another part of the brain or to the spine. The resulting tumor is called a recurrent tumor.
A residual tumor occurs when some cancer cells remain after treatment. These cells can continue to grow and spread.
Why is radiosurgery a good treatment option for brain tumors?
Radiosurgery may be a good treatment option to consider for brain tumors, either alone or in combination with surgery, chemotherapy or conventional radiology. It is a good option for tumors that are:
- Difficult to reach surgically
- Appear to be growing rapidly
- Are very small
Radiosurgery is also a good option for patients who are not good candidates for surgery because of age or medical condition.
Radiosurgery may be an alternative to surgery, in which case the patient avoids general anesthesia, an incision in the scalp, and the risk of infection or other surgical complications. Additionally, there is a much shorter recovery time after radiosurgery. Usually patients leave the Radiosurgery Center shortly after their CyberKnife or Gamma Knife treatments and return to their normal daily activities.
How does radiosurgery work for primary brain tumors?
Whether the patient is scheduled for CyberKnife or Gamma Knife, the treatment process begins with imaging (MRI and/or CT scans), which is used to create a customized treatment plan. Both machines precisely aim multiple beams of radiation at the target from many different angles and positions based on the patient’s treatment plan. The Gamma Knife stays in one place and delivers all of the beams at one time. The Cyber Knife moves around the patient delivering one beam at a time.
Alone each of those beams of radiation is not strong enough to damage the normal brain through which it travels on its way to the target. Where the beams meet, however, the combined strength is enough to destroy the tumor cells.
Because our Radiosurgery Center has CyberKnife and Gamma Knife, our radiation oncologists and neurosurgeons are able to select the best leading-edge technology that will produce the very best possible outcomes.
Is radiosurgery right for you?
Once you have been diagnosed with a brain tumor, you and your doctor will discuss all of your treatment options. In planning your treatment, your doctor will consider your particular situation before making a recommendation.
We invite you to call the Swedish Radiosurgery Center at 206-320-7130 to talk with one of our radiosurgery specialists if you would like more information or a second opinion.