Surgeons at the University of Alberta Hospital in Edmonton will now be able to perform certain brain surgeries without even making an incision.
The Gamma Knife uses radiation to target certain brain tumours and other lesions, while minimizing the impact on the patient’s normal brain tissue.
The technology makes it possible for surgeons to guide the gamma rays without cutting open the patient’s brain. Using the Gamma Knife is painless and less risky than open neurosurgery, according to Alberta Health Services.
“Access to the Gamma Knife means we can provide the safest and most effective care for patients with brain conditions such as brain tumours, blood vessel malformations, severe facial pain and certain movement disorders,” neurosurgeon Dr. Keith Aronyk explained.
Traditional neurosurgery can take upwards of eight hours and require patients to remain in hospital for lengthy stays.
This technology — funded entirely by donations to the University Hospital Foundation — will cut procedure time down to between 30 and 90 minutes, depending on the size of the tumour being treated.
The bed of the Gamma Knife, which is about the same size as an MRI or CT scanner, moves in order to target the radiation to the affected region of the brain.
“This is the most focused form of radiation therapy where you get all the treatment — five weeks’ worth of treatment — in one shot,” Aronyk said.
“Instead of having six operations to remove six spots on the brain from a lung cancer, you have one shot where the bed moves to six different positions.”
Most patients will be able to return home the same day they receive treatment.
“There’s no surgery so there’s no recovery time. Once the frame is off, you go home to your own bed that night. There’s no anesthesia, there’s no surgery, there’s no stitches to remove. The radiation itself works over time.”
“It’s a game changer for patients — in terms of convenience, in terms of quality of care, in terms of outcomes — and being able to treat some patients that we were not able to treat before,” added Dr. Samir Patel, a radiation oncologist at the Cross Cancer Institute.
Jan Wasylyshyn, who lives in Edmonton, had a benign brain tumour treated with the use of a Gamma Knife in Winnipeg in 2011. She made the trip east on a Tuesday, had the procedure on Wednesday and was back home in Edmonton by Thursday.
“I was back to work quickly, able to attend my son’s graduation the following week and back to the day-to-day of my regular life,” she said.
“It’s an amazing procedure.”
AHS expects 300 patients from across Alberta and Western Canada will receive treatments using the Gamma Knife at the hospital each year.