When Is Gamma Knife Surgery The Best Option For You?

Gamma knife surgery - Radiosurgery word cloud

All over the world, millions of people who have contracted brain cancer will have soon learned there is more hope for extended survival today than ever before, because of the wide range of treatments available.

For those learning about gamma knife surgery, there may be a lot of interest in this option and the circumstances in which it might be used as the best available means of treating a tumour.

Brain tumour surgery has certainly been in the news a lot recently, with news that the former US Open golf champion Gary Woodland has had surgery to remove most of a tumour.

The 39-year-old, who won his major title in 2019, revealed on his X (Twitter) account that he would have the operation on September 18th, having been diagnosed just over three months earlier. He had been seeking to use medication to treat the lesion but had agreed after consultation to undergo the operation.

A subsequent statement on his social media accounts revealed: “After a long surgery, the majority of the tumor has been removed and he is currently resting.” 

No further details of the nature of the operation were provided, but the use of the phrase ‘long surgery’ may be a strong indicator that this was a matter of invasive surgery in which the brain was physically accessed and most of the tumour excised.

A gamma knife operation would not be quite like this. Firstly, it does not actually involve any invasive surgery at all as it involves the focused direction of radiotherapy beams on the specific affected area of the brain.

Secondly, the time taken does not particularly fit the description ‘lengthy’. Although the duration of the procedure can vary, a period of less than one hour is perfectly normal.

Also, while Gary Woodland is ‘resting’ from his surgery and it required someone else to make the social media posts on his behalf – suggesting he may have been under general anaesthetic – this is different from gamma knife operations, where patients can often return to normal activities within a day or two, though regular check-ups will be needed thereafter.

Of course, the specific details of Gary Woodland’s condition are between him and his doctors, but some factors would determine that invasive surgery instead of gamma knife surgery might be required. Some of these could apply in his case, while others would not.

For example, a gamma knife may not be the best solution for those who are very young or very old, although this would not apply to a patient of Gary Woodland’s age.

Other issues favouring different options could include larger or more complex tumours (gamma knife treatment is best for small and well-defined tumours), bleeding disorders or having a metal implant in the head.

Finding the right treatment for brain tumours is important and there will be times when a gamma knife is not the best option. But when it is, it comes with a lot of advantages in enabling you to resume normal activity sooner than invasive surgery would normally allow.