Allegheny Health Network Cancer Institute Launches State-of-the-Art Gamma Knife Program for Noninvasive Treatment of Brain Tumors

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 Allegheny Health Network Cancer Institute now offers patients access to the latest, most advanced version of Gamma Knife, a highly effective, noninvasive alternative to traditional brain surgery.  

Considered the “gold standard” in stereotactic radiosurgery, Gamma Knife is a type of radiation therapy in which hundreds of precisely focused radiation beams are used to treat tumors, vascular malformations and other abnormalities in the brain. This high level of precision allows doctors to target even the smallest tumors effectively with minimal radiation exposure to healthy tissues.

The Gamma Knife Icon acquired by AHN offers several advantages in comfort, accuracy and safety over previous models. Its design makes it easier for doctors to reach more complex targets and re-treat patients with recurrent tumors.

It also includes an infrared tracking system which allows treatment without prior placement of a fixed headframe. This monitoring system automatically shuts down the Gamma Knife if a patient moves more than 1.0 mm during treatment, so that the treatment can be re-adjusted and the tumor targeted with the greatest accuracy. 

“AHN Cancer Institute is on the forefront of cancer care, providing patients with state-of-the-art cancer-fighting technologies and treatments, from Gamma Knife to CAR-T cellular therapy for certain blood cancers, to Peptide Receptor Radionuclide Therapy for pancreatic cancer,” said David Parda, MD, chair, AHN Cancer Institute. “We are very excited to add the Gamma Knife Icon to our arsenal in the fight against cancer, and expect many patients will benefit from its precise, non-surgical approach.”

Treatment with Gamma Knife may be appropriate when tumors are too difficult to reach with traditional surgery, when a person is not healthy enough to undergo surgery, or when the patient simply prefers a less invasive treatment. 

Gamma Knife can be used to treat a variety of malignant brain tumors, including high-grade gliomas, benign brain tumors such as pineal tumors and low-grade gliomas. Other conditions that may be treated by Gamma Knife include pituitary tumors, arteriovenous malformation (an abnormal tangle of arteries and veins in the brain), trigeminal neuralgia (a nerve disorder that can cause disabling facial pain), and acoustic neuroma, (a benign tumor that can cause hearing loss).

Research has found that Gamma Knife is as effective as traditional procedures, with lower complication rates. It is typically completed in one day, with patients returning to regular activities within two days, and usually not needing physical therapy or rehabilitation. Traditional radiotherapy can require as many as 30 separate treatments. 

The treatment generally lasts anywhere from one to two hours. Patients do not hear or feel the machine in operation, and can speak to their doctors during treatment via microphone. The Gamma Knife Icon uses 3D imaging to plan the radiation delivery and allows for on-the-spot adjustments if needed. A high-definition motion-management system monitors the patient’s movements with .15-millimeter accuracy, six times better than the industry standard.

“As radiation oncologists, we always strive to offer the most effective treatment while getting patients back to their normal daily lives as soon as possible,” said Stephen Karlovits, MD, radiation oncologist  and co-director along with Rodney Wegner, MD, of the Gamma Knife program at AHN Cancer Institute. “We are happy to offer our patients treatment with the Gamma Knife Icon, the most state-of-the-art alternative to traditional brain surgery, one that is performed on an outpatient basis and lets patients resume most activities very quickly.”

Gamma Knife is available to patients at AHN’s Allegheny General Hospital and will eventually be located at the new AGH Academic Cancer Center, expected to open in early 2020. 

The Academic Cancer Center at AGH is part of a $300 million commitment by Highmark and AHN to greatly enhance and expand AHN’s leading cancer treatment capabilities across the western Pennsylvania region. The Center will serve as the hub of cancer care, innovation, research, clinical trials and medical education at AHN, supporting the network’s growing number of comprehensive community based cancer treatment facilities. AHN opened new community cancer centers this year in Monroeville, Butler County and Beaver County, with additional centers set to open later this year in Erie and Hempfield, Westmoreland County.