Undergoing ‘Gamma-Knife’ treatment – nothing to be afraid of.
When my consultant said they wanted to use a Gamma Knife on me I nearly ran a mile! It might sound like something from a sci-fi film, but it was being recommended as the best treatment for a brain tumour which had started to grow again after several years in remission.
Also known as Stereotactic Radiosurgery, the non-invasive treatment is a highly accurate way of focusing lots of narrow beams of radiation on a small, defined area within the brain. It was introduced to the UK in 1985 and is used for a variety of brain disorders, but where tumours are concerned size and shape is often the determining factor. It’s currently only available at five UK hospitals.
This treatment isn’t routinely funded by the NHS, so before I could be given an appointment, an Individual Funding Request had to be submitted to Nottingham’s Primary Care Trust for approval. With all the recent cost-cutting it was an uncomfortable and uncertain wait, but the go-ahead finally came through after a couple of weeks.
Unlike traditional radiotherapy which is spread out over multiple visits, stereotactic radiotherapy is delivered in a single session. I had to stay overnight so I could be dosed up on anti-inflammatory steroids and be ready for an early start the following day. The procedure had been well explained by the excellent staff at the Thornbury Hospital in Sheffield where I was being treated. The first, and most uncomfortable, part of the day was having a metal headframe fitted to keep my head totally still during the treatment, but local anaesthetic soon took care of pain from the screws. One mild sedative later I was ready for a quick MRI scan which confirmed the location and size of the tumour. While the treatment plan was produced I was taken back to my room for a couple of hours where I relaxed and played ‘negotiate the headframe with coffee and biscuits’ (it involved lots of crumbs!).
The treatment itself only took about an hour and a quarter, although this does vary on the size and location of the tumour. The Gamma Knife machine is not unlike an MRI scanner, just a lot quieter and I still got to listen to my own music. After the headframe was removed I was kept in for a couple of hours for observation and then allowed to go home.
As far as side-effects go, I felt tired, a little nauseous and had headaches for a few days, but soon felt right as rain. The treatment does take time to work, but I am hoping that my next routine MRI scan will show positive results. In the meantime I offer my full support to anyone else about to go under the Gamma Knife – it’s nothing to be afraid of.