neurosurgeon looking over brain scan

Stereotactic Radiosurgery: What Is It, and When Is It Appropriate?

Some medical conditions may be hard to treat — not because of the actual condition, but because of where the condition is located. For example, a tumor on your hand is easier to access than a tumor on your pituitary gland, located inside your skull at the base of the brain.

Depending on several factors, a surgeon has a couple of choices of how to treat conditions of the brain and spine. For a brain condition, one option is to first perform a craniotomy, which temporarily removes part of the skull so the brain can be accessed. This is a serious surgery that could require four to eight weeks to recover, is performed near healthy surrounding tissues and other delicate areas, and (like all surgeries) comes with a number of risks.

An alternative option is a procedure called stereotactic radiosurgery, which is actually not a surgery in the traditional sense — despite having “surgery” in its name — because it doesn’t require the surgeon to make any cuts on your body. 

Conditions Treated by Stereotactic Radiosurgery

Several neurological conditions in the brain and spine can be treated with stereotactic radiosurgery, including:

  • Cancer and noncancerous tumors
  • Nerve conditions including trigeminal neuralgia and epilepsy
  • Abnormal conditions of the arteries and veins, such as arteriovenous malformations and arteriovenous fistulas

Your surgeon will decide — based on factors including your age, your health, and the specifics of your condition, such as the size and location of a tumor — whether you’re a candidate for stereotactic radiosurgery.

How Stereotactic Radiosurgery Works

Stereotactic radiosurgery is a kind of radiation therapy, meaning beams of powerful X-rays target tumors or other problem areas in your brain or spine. A single individual beam doesn’t affect your tissues; it’s only when several beams from different angles intersect at the exact point of treatment that they destroy the DNA of cells so they eventually shrink and can no longer reproduce.

The advantage of this procedure over traditional surgery, in addition to no incisions being made, is that the beams of radiation are so precise that your healthy tissues are not affected. You may be a candidate for this kind of procedure if your condition is located in a part of your brain that is too hard to reach with regular surgery.

Stereotactic radiosurgery requires no anesthesia, instead, oral medication is used to help calm your nerves before and during the treatment.

If you’re receiving stereotactic radiosurgery for a brain condition, your head will need to be stabilized so it doesn’t move while the beams are aimed at the target. You will have a mesh mask fitted tightly to the contours of your face. The facemask can be somewhat uncomfortable but is necessary to ensure an accurate and safe treatment session.

Imaging of the brain will be acquired prior to treatment in order to develop a safe treatment plan.  This will require you to undergo an imaging procedure that’s similar to an X-ray, such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan or computed tomography (CT) scan. If the stereotactic radiosurgery is treating an artery or vein condition, you may also receive an angiogram, which is a kind of X-ray to find blockages in your blood vessels.

Once the treatment area has been identified, you will undergo the procedure, during which you will lie on a bed-like table while the system delivering the radiation moves around you, delivering the treatment.  The length of the procedure will depend on your condition, or in the case of tumors, how many are being treated during a single session.

Recovery, Risks, and Side Effects of Stereotactic Radiosurgery

Because stereotactic radiosurgery requires no incisions, you don’t have to worry about the risks and side effects of traditional surgery, such as infection and wound healing. The procedure will resemble getting an X-ray, though the head frame might feel uncomfortable and you may have some mild headache and nausea following treatment.

Common side effects of stereotactic radiosurgery include temporary tiredness, nausea, and headache, while some patients may also suffer nerve pain or brain swelling. Your surgeon will thoroughly review what you may expect following your procedure.

These risks and side effects aside, you should be able to resume everyday activities one or two days after the procedure. Again, your surgeon will discuss the specifics of your case.

Make an Appointment with Dr. Woodall Today

For comprehensive treatment of a wide range of brain and spine conditions, Dr. Woodall has the experience and training to determine whether stereotactic radiosurgery is right for you. Contact our office today.