Within the last decade, stereotactic radiosurgery (SRS) has come a long way. This external-beam radiation therapy can precisely target small areas within the body. It was initially developed for the brain but is now used to shrink or slow the growth of tumors in other parts of the body, as well. We use stereotactic radiosurgery when possible at Texas Neurosurgery.
What is the procedure with SRS?
The amazing thing about using SRS is that the procedure doesn’t involve any incisions. It is non-invasive. During the treatment, the patient lies on his or her side on a table. The table then is moved into the machine that delivers the radiation. There are three types of machines used for SRS: a Gamma Knife® unit, a linear accelerator, and a cyclotron.
When applicable, a contrast agent is given to the patient to make the tumor more visible. Then, three-dimensional imaging — a CT, MRI, or PET/CT scan — is used to locate the tumor and to determine its shape and size. A head frame or individual body mold is used to limit the patient’s movements, so the radiation hits the targeted area only. Next, a high dose of radiation is precisely delivered onto the tumor. Each session lasts just 30 minutes to one hour; treatment may include up to five sessions.
What are the Advantages of Stereotactic Radiosurgery?
There are several reasons your doctor may suggest stereotactic radiosurgery and several reasons you may want to consider this procedure as ideal. The advantages of this non-invasive treatment include:
- It can be complementary to conventional surgery.
- Stereotactic surgery may be ideal for cases that would otherwise be considered inoperable.
- It may be a better treatment option than conventional surgery for higher-risk individuals.
- It may be used as a follow-up to failed surgery or previous radiation therapy.
- The cost of stereotactic surgery may be less than conventional surgery.
- There is minimal recovery associated with this procedure.
- There is no hair loss associated with stereotactic radiosurgery.
- Optimal clinical outcomes have been well-documented over two decades of research.
Am I Still a Candidate for this Treatment if I am Older or Have Other Medical Conditions?
Your doctor will conduct a thorough consultation and examination to identify the treatment options that will be ideal for your situation. Optimal outcomes are our primary focus, as well as the safety and efficacy of the recommended procedures. When looking at surgical options, it is not uncommon for patients with advanced age or preexisting health conditions to be considered higher risk. This might make them poor surgical candidates overall. Contrary to how it may seem, stereotactic radiosurgery may be even more suitable in such cases. This is because there is no need for general anesthesia, no incisions or internal cutting, and minimal downtime. During stereotactic radiosurgery, gamma ray technology works through the skin without any cutting whatsoever.
Is Stereotactic Radiosurgery Painful?
Patients are awake during the procedure but do not experience pain. No anesthesia is needed for stereotactic radiosurgery because there are no incisions and there is no cutting of tissue. The radiation that affects the tumor is neither seen nor felt during the procedure.
How Quickly Will Results Occur After Stereotactic Radiosurgery?
Unlike conventional surgery that surgically removes a tumor or lesion, stereotactic radiosurgery works over a period of time. After the treatment, the DNA of the abnormal tissue changes. Cell reproduction is interrupted so no further abnormal cells develop in the area. This may stop the growth of the lesion or, in some cases, it may cause the lesion to dissolve. The breakdown of the tumor may occur over several days or it may take years.
Your doctor will follow up with you at least one time after your stereotactic radiosurgery to ensure that the lesion has become inert or is dissolving. The tumor may be monitored over time using MRI scans scheduled at regular intervals to ensure proper management or resolution.
What are the risks of SRS?
The SRS procedure is very precise, but there is a risk of damaging surrounding healthy tissue. When used on brain tumors, swelling of the brain, called brain edema, can occur. This is usually temporary. Other serious complications may include seizures following treatment, a possible regrowth of the targeted tumor, or development of secondary cancer.
These are the more common side effects of SRS treatment:
- Redness, blistering, or peeling of the skin
- Hair loss at the site
- Nausea and vomiting
- Difficulty swallowing
Still, due to its non-invasiveness, patients can return home immediately following their treatment, and they can usually return to work the next day.