Newswise — New Brunswick, N.J., May 1, 2022 – Despite its name, gamma knife is not a blade that cuts or requires a physician to make an incision in your head. Gamma knife is a non-surgical treatment option that uses high doses of precisely focused radiation beams to destroy cancer cells and non-cancerous tumors. Joseph P. Weiner, MD, radiation oncologist at Rutgers Cancer Institute and assistant professor of radiation oncology at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, who specializes in malignant and benign cancers of the brain and spine shares more about this treatment.

What is gamma knife and how does it work?

Gamma knife, known as radiosurgery, uses many small gamma rays to deliver a precise dose of radiation to a target. It focuses radiation directly, and very precisely, on the targeted area of the brain without affecting surrounding healthy tissue. The radiation source used is called cobalt-60. There are 192 physical pieces of cobalt-60 loaded within the gamma knife unit. Radiation beams can be generated and delivered with the accuracy of approximately 0.15 mm, smaller than the thickness of the average human finger nail. Individually, each radiation beam is too weak to damage the normal tissues it crosses on the way to the target. But when focused precisely on that target, the beams intersect and the combined radiation is sufficient to treat the targeted area.

Who is a good candidate for this type of treatment?

The procedure has been especially effective in helping to reduce the size of tumors that develop in the brain. Some conditions treated using the gamma knife at Rutgers Cancer Institute and Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital are both metastatic and primary brain tumors, such as glioma, meningioma, acoustic neuroma and pituitary adenoma.  Non-cancerous conditions treated include arteriovenous malformations (AVM) and certain pain syndromes such as trigeminal neuralgia.

Can you describe the benefits/uniqueness of this treatment? Gamma knife treatment is unique in that no surgical incision is made to expose the inside of the brain. This treatment has many benefits. Because gamma knife radiosurgery is so accurate, the full dose of radiation can usually be delivered during a single session. Since no incision is made, the patient’s head does not need to be shaved, and the risk of surgical complications is low. This simple and painless procedure allows patients to return home the same day and resume normal activities in just a few days.

What is the benefit about receiving this type of care at a National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center like Rutgers Cancer Institute?

In coming to a National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center patients can be sure that are afforded the newest technology, the brightest treatment team and access to cutting edge clinical trials.  The resources and care at Rutgers Cancer Institute and RWJBarnbas Health are second to none!

Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey together with RWJBarnabas Health, the state’s only National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center, offers gamma knife Icon at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital (RWJUH). RWJUH was the first to offer treatment with Icon, which represents the most advanced and accurate generation of this technology.

Marcus Rivera was concerned when a benign but potentially debilitating tumor was found at the base of his skull. Non-invasive gamma knife surgery done by experts at Rutgers Cancer Institute and Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital has him back on track. Read his story featured in Cancer Connection Magazine: