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A patient requiring radiosurgery has already been diagnosed with a specific disorder that affects the brain. As preparation for radiosurgery, he or she will undergo neuroimaging studies to determine the precise location of the target area in the brain. These studies may include CT scans, MRI scans, and others. Imaging of the blood vessels (angiography) or the brain's ventricles (ventriculography) may be done as well. These require the injection of either a harmless radioactive substance or a contrast dye.
Prior to the procedure, the patient will be fitted with a stereotactic frame or rigid mask to immobilize the head. This part of the treatment may be uncomfortable. The patient may receive a simulation scan to establish the precise relationship of the mask or frame to the head to help plan the treatment.
The patient may be given a sedative and an antinausea agent prior to the simulation scan or treatment.
Stereotactic radiosurgery does not produce some of the side effects commonly associated with radiation treatment, such as reddening of the skin or hair loss. Most patients can return to their usual daily activities following treatment without any special precautions.
The risks of stereotactic radiosurgery include mild headache, tiredness, nausea and vomiting, and recurrence of the tumor. Questions have been raised as to whether radiosurgery can cause secondary tumors, but as of 2003, there is little detailed information about this potential risk.
Stereotactic radiosurgery does not cause pain; and because the skull is not opened, there is no long hospital stay or risk of infection. Recovery is very rapid; most patients go home the same day they are treated, although follow-up imaging and retreatment may be necessary in some cases. This form of surgery appears to be quite successful in extending the length of survival in cancer patients; one study found that gamma knife radiosurgery controlled tumor growth in 96% of patients with kidney cancer that had spread to the brain, and added an average of 15 months to the patients' survival.
Author Info: Richard Robinson, The Gale Group Inc., Gale, Detroit, Gale Encyclopedia of Surgery, 2004
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