South Sound Gamma Knife

Gamma Knife® Treatment:
What to Expect

Contrary to its name, there is no knife in Gamma Knife. No incisions are involved in this safe, painless and effective procedure used for more than 80,000 patients every year. While the Gamma Knife treatment is a relatively quick outpatient procedure, because of preparation and treatment planning time, you should expect to spend most of the day at our facility. Here is a step-by-step outline of what you should expect when you have Gamma Knife treatment.

Before your visit

Your journey to Gamma Knife treatment begins with your primary care provider, and leads you up to the night before your outpatient procedure.

Primary care physician or neurologist referral

If your physician suspects you have a brain tumor, neurological malformation or functional disorder, he or she will refer you to a neurosurgeon or radiation oncologist.

Consultation with neursurgeon or radiation oncologist

If the neurosurgeon or radiation oncologist confirms the referring physician’s diagnosis through examination and testing, he or she will recommend the appropriate treatment procedure. If your specialist determines you may be a good candidate for Gamma Knife treatment, you will be referred to South Sound Gamma Knife for a treatment consult and scheduling. Virtual consults are now available.

Before your Gamma Knife treatment

If you are using a face mask for your procedure, you will come to the clinic to be fitted a few days before your treatment. Imaging is usually scheduled for a day prior to your treatment day, and may include magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), computed tomography (CT) or angiography. Frame-based patient imaging sometimes takes place on treatment day, once your headframe is fitted. (Not sure if this is the answer here, but the point is that with the Icon, imaging can usually be done in advance of treatment by several days, but some imaging can take place on treatment day.)

The day before your Gamma Knife procedure

As with many medical procedures, there are a few guidelines to follow before your scheduled procedure:

  • Please do not eat or drink anything after midnight prior to your treatment day. DO take your normal medications with enough water to swallow them.
  • Wash your hair well the night before your procedure and do not use any hair products (e.g., gels, hair spray).
  • If you take pain medication, please take your dosage on your regular schedule. The nurse will need to know what you took and at what time. If your scheduled time to take your medications is during your stay at South Sound Gamma Knife, please bring your medications with you and we will make sure you can take them as scheduled.

On the day of Gamma Knife treatment

On treatment day, you will first check in at the St. Joseph Outpatient Center at the hospital. You will be met by a specially trained nurse who will help you get ready for the placement of the headframe or mask and diagnostic imaging, and then accompany you back to South Sound Gamma Knife in the St. Joseph Medical Pavilion for your treatment.

Ensuring accuracy with headframe or mask

In the Day Surgery Center at the St. Joseph Outpatient Center, the neurosurgeon will fit you with a special, lightweight stereotactic headframe or mask, depending on the procedure.

Diagnostic imaging

After the headframe is in place, you’ll be taken across the hall for diagnostic imaging, which may involve MRI (magnetic resonance imaging), CT scan (computed tomography) or angiography. Three-dimensional imaging is required to determine the exact size, shape and position of the radiation’s “target abnormality” in the brain.

Before imaging, we place a coordinate box on the headframe to provide reference points on the images, which are used for treatment planning. We remove the coordinate box as soon as we’ve captured your images.

Building your customized treatment plan

Once we take images, you can rest, listen to music or watch TV while your neurosurgeon and radiation oncologist work with a specialized medical physicist to create your treatment plan.  Every patient’s plan is different, individually crafted to address their specific needs. Creating the complex plan takes about an hour or more.

The treatment

After we complete your plan, your treatment can begin. You will lay down on the treatment couch and the headframe will be attached to the special “helmet” inside the Gamma Knife unit. During the whole procedure you will remain awake and able to communicate with the team via audio and video. The treatment is totally silent and painless, and lasts anywhere from a few minutes to an hour, depending on the size and shape of the target.

Post Treatment 

After the treatment

When your treatment is finished, we will remove the stereotactic headframe. You may experience a mild headache or minor swelling where the headframe was attached, but most patients experience no problems. Typically, you will be able to go home an hour after the headframe is removed, and likely return to normal activities in just a day or two. If you had an angiogram, you will be required to lay quietly for several hours before leaving.

Treatment results take time

Gamma Knife treatment results will occur over time. Radiation treatments are designed to slow or stop the growth of lesions or tumors over a period of weeks or months. Our Gamma Knife team will stay in contact with you to assess your progress, which may include follow-up MRI, CT or angiography images.

Schedule an appointment

Ask your doctor about Gamma Knife treatment or call 866.254.3353 to schedule an appointment and learn if Gamma Knife treatment may be right for you.

Toll Free

1-866-254-3353

Our Location

1802 S. Yakima, Suite 103, Tacoma, WA 98405

St. Joseph Medical Pavilion