What is Radiosurgery?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Radiosurgery is a clinical treatment for malformations and abnormalities in the body that cannot be reached by conventional surgical means. It involves precision targeting of the area of interest with ionizing radiation, with the goal of killing abnormal cells and preventing the growth from developing any further. Radiosurgery is offered in clinics and hospitals in many regions of the world by oncologists who specialize in this treatment. Risks and recovery time associated with radiosurgery are substantially lower than those for other treatments.

A linear accelerator might be used for radiosurgery to kill cancer cells.
A linear accelerator might be used for radiosurgery to kill cancer cells.

One of the most common uses for this procedure is in the targeting of tumors, both benign and malignant, particularly in the head, as brain tumors are hard to reach safely with conventional surgery. This therapy can also be used for certain types of venous and nervous malformations. If a patient is a candidate for radiosurgery, a series of steps will be followed before the procedure takes place.

One of the most common uses for radiosurgery is in the targeting of brain tumors, both benign and malignant.
One of the most common uses for radiosurgery is in the targeting of brain tumors, both benign and malignant.

Detailed medical imaging studies are performed to precisely locate the area of interest. The oncologist develops a target and determines the best radiosurgery method to use and how much radiation should be delivered. This treatment plan is carefully reviewed to confirm it is appropriate and to program the device that will be used in the procedure with the relevant information. Most of these devices have fail-safes designed to prevent obvious overdoses of radiation and other risks.

For the procedure, the patient must be immobile, as the targeting is very narrow, and if the patient moves, radiation may be delivered to the wrong spot. Patients can be sedated for radiosurgery and are also typically restrained. For procedures on the brain, a head frame may be used to lock the head firmly in place. The patient is monitored during the session and immediately afterward for any side effects or complications. Most commonly, patients experience some swelling around the radiosurgery site, as the dead and dying cells rupture, cause mild inflammation, and lead to fluid retention.

For a follow up, imaging studies will be performed again to confirm that the site is clean. The patient may also need additional treatment such as chemotherapy, depending on the reason for the procedure. For patients, radiosurgery has a number of benefits including decreased hospital stays, less risk of serious complications like infections, and more precision during the surgery itself, with less damage to surrounding tissues. If a patient is a candidate for this procedure, consultations with several doctors may be provided to give the patient a complete picture of all the options and to develop the best treatment plan for the patient's case.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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