Director, Center for Image-Guided Neurosurgery
Acoustic neuroma is a benign tumor that starts from the balance portion of the hearing nerve, that’s the 8th cranial nerve. It’s a tumor that often causes some problem with balance or equilibrium but in many patients as this grows it will affect hearing and as it grows further can affect function of how your face works or even feeling of the face.
Gamma Knife is a technology that was developed more than 35 years ago. It is designed to inactivate or stop growing a tumor that is treated by cross-firing x-ray beams all around the head that are targeted on this growth.
In the past the only treatment option for an acoustic neuroma was surgically removing it. And this can be the right decision in certain patients, especially younger patients without other medical risk factors, but for many patients the goal of treatment is to stop it from growing and to preserve current function. So if we can preserve hearing, if we can preserve how well the face works, if we can preserve sensation of the face without surgically removing the tumor, this gives a huge advantage.
The patient comes in first thing in the morning. We use a guiding device that’s placed on the head using a local anesthetic and mild sedation. After that we make a of the patient’s brain and their tumor using MRI. Once we have made the we do a computer plan to be able to know how to set the Gamma Knife up for the optimal treatment, and the actual treatment in the Gamma Knife itself may only take about 30 minutes or so. Then the patient can leave the same day and go back to their regular activities. The advantage of this is it’s over in a single day; patients can resume all levels of regular activity almost immediately; and it has a 98% chance that it will inactivate the tumor on a long-term basis. Plus we have a less than 1% risk of any problem related to the facial muscles and we can save hearing in between 50 and 90% of patients.
At UPMC we put in the first Gamma Knife in North America in 1987, we have been pioneers in the usage of this technology for 28 years and we’ve now treated more than 12,500 patients with the Gamma Knife. Of those, almost 1,700 patients are patients with this type of acoustic neuroma or hearing nerve tumor. For more information, please call (412) 647-7744, or visit the Center for Image-Guided Neurosurgery at the University of Pittsburgh website.