A new technology in Alaska offers minimally invasive treatment for patients with brain tumors. By using high-force beams of radiation that precisely target tumors, the Gamma Knife can treat them without full brain radiation or standard surgery.
Almost 200 small beams of radiation are used to focus in on a cancerous or non-cancerous tumor, according to Dr. Stephen Settle, medical director of the Alaska Gamma Knife Center at the Anchorage Radiation Therapy Center.
ARTC first began using the Gamma Knife in December, making it accessible in Alaska for the first time. Before then, Seattle was the nearest place for patients to get similar treatment.
"It's much better to be able to do that here in their home state rather than having to fly, stay in a hotel, see another doctor down there in consultation," Settle said. "It's just a lot less stressful on people already under a lot of stress because they have a disease they need treated."
Settle has since treated about a dozen patients in the Gamma Knife vault, which can last from half an hour to several hours, depending on the patient's needs. While possible side effects could include swelling or a headache for a day or two, the alternative treatments -- including surgery or whole-brain radiation -- sometimes causes hair loss, fatigue and cognitive problems.
"This allows us another tool in our war chest to use against the cancer and avoid the toxicity of the whole brain radiation when possible," Settle said.