Emory-St. Joseph’s wields Gamma Knife in brain surgery - North Atlanta Business Post
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Updated Nov 14 @ 1:05PM

Emory-St. Joseph’s wields Gamma Knife in brain surgery

Noninvasive procedure uses high-tech precision

Dr. Peter Rossi can visually track the exact spot to place gamma radiation pellets used to destroy cancer tumors in the brain.
Emory-St. Joseph’s Hospital’s Gamma Knife team of Dr. Peter Rossi, left, and Dr. Shannon Kahn extol the virtues of this new noninvasive surgical procedure for radiating brain cancers.

Gamma Knife radiosurgery is a type of radiation treatment performed with the Leksell Gamma Knife, a noninvasive neurosurgical tool.

Gamma Knife radiosurgery involves focusing small, highly precise doses of radiation into the brain. This shrinks small brain tumors or blocks abnormal blood vessels and nerves that cause pain or seizures.

Gamma Knife surgery can also treat some brain disorders, such as Parkinson’s disease.

The name is derived from the knife-like precision of the radiation delivered to the target area.

The procedure is an effective alternative to neurosurgery for many patients.

Gamma Knife surgery can help patients who cannot tolerate neurosurgery because of a medical condition, age or simply preference.

It is less invasive and requires less hospitalization and recovery time than neurosurgery. Most Gamma Knife patients are treated on an outpatient basis and require no overnight stay.

Anyone interested in Gamma Knife should discuss all procedures and surgery options with their doctor and consider getting a second opinion about all treatment choices before having the procedure.

A new noninvasive surgical procedure is showing great success at Emory-Saint Joseph’s Hospital for tricky brain surgeries and goes by the name of Gamma Knife.

Dr. Peter Rossi, a radiation oncologist at Emory-St. Joseph’s Hospital in Sandy Springs, is trained on one of four Gamma Knife machines in the state of Georgia. This new technology allows for extremely precise radiation surgery that is unattainable through most conventional brain surgeries.

It is almost like science fiction than medical science, but Rossi says it is a game-changer for certain types of brain surgeries.

He often works with Dr. Shannon Kahn, assistant professor in the Emory School of Medicine Department of Radiation Oncology. 

“The machine is only used on the brain. It allows you to target the precise surgical spot you want to get at without damaging the surrounding areas. It is a great alternative to surgery. It is a half-day outpatient procedure,” Kahn said.

The success rate on tumors is about 90 percent to 95 percent.

“These are the most advanced machines in the world for many kinds of cranial surgery,” Rossi said.

“The gamma rays are specific to treating certain kinds of tumors. The machine gets us to the exact spot we need to be,” he said.

Because the Gamma Knife expertise is known to just a few doctors, they act as a peer group of world experts on the device, Kahn said.

“The Gamma Knife consortium is on the cutting edge of the most advanced techniques in the world,” she said.

There are also conditions where a vein and artery grow together, creating a high risk of aneurism (where the vessel just balloons with the catastrophic risk of bursting).

“It is virtually the same procedure as surgery but without hospitalization and a longer recovery,” Kahn said. “It’s a half-day outpatient procedure with virtually the same results as surgery, but [Gamma Knife] is safer and shorter.”

The Gamma Knife can operate within a 4-millimeter area that an MRI can’t even “see,” Rossi said.

Rossi and Kahn both are part of the Gamma Knife team at Emory-St. Joseph’s.

“One of the advantages of the Emory system is the Winship Cancer Institute. Kahn is a clinical member of the Cancer Prevention and Control Research Program at Winship Cancer Institute,” said Emory-St. Joseph’s Hospital interim Chief Executive Officer Dane Peterson.

Emory University Hospital through Winship is ranked among the top 25 cancer hospitals in the nation, Peterson said.

One of Kahn’s research interests includes examining newer technologies and treatment of breast cancer to minimize cosmetic changes while maximizing long-term tumor control.

The use of the Gamma Knife is strictly monitored and controlled, so that it is available to get at brain tumors as soon as possible, Rossi said. The amount of actual time on the device itself is short, but it takes a lot of preparation first.

Insurance companies like the Gamma Knife because it keeps costs down.

“In a standard case, the patient never opens his checkbook. The costs are covered in most insurance plans,” Rossi said.

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