Stereotactic Radiosurgery: a Primer for Patients

Dr Michelle Mackay Turville Bay

As patients are referred to Turville Bay Radiation Oncology Center for stereotactic radiosurgery, an overview of their surgical experience can be meaningful. The technology employed to perform incision-free treatment is quite specialized. The physicians and healthcare teams that do this work are not typically known to most of today’s healthcare patients. Every patient has questions and some may be anxious. What will this “surgery” be like? How will I feel? What will my recovery be like? Will it work?

Though complex planning precedes the day of treatment, the patient sees little of this. Typically, stereotactic radiosurgery consists of one to five treatments. This surgery effectively kills the tumor while seemingly decreasing potential side effects. During the procedure we focus scores of radiation beamlets from multiple angles on the tumor (or other target) with submillimeter accuracy. Each beam has very little effect on the brain tissue it passes through, but when these tiny beams meet, a strong dose of radiation is delivered. Rather than surgically removing the tumor, we destroy the DNA of tumor cells to ablate the tumor. As a result, these cells lose their ability to reproduce and die.

The patient’s experience is straight forward compared to traditional surgery. The time needed to complete a stereotactic treatment is approximately one hour, depending on the size and shape of the target. As the patient reclines on the machine’s treatment couch, a stabilizing mask is put in place. During the procedure:

  • You won't feel the radiation, it is painless.
  • You only hear a minimal hum from the machine.
  • You'll be able to interact appropriately with your treatment team.

After the procedure: 

  • The stabilizing mask will be removed.
  • You may experience fatigue and possibly headache.
  • You'll be able to eat and drink after the procedure.
  • We prescribe rest for a day or two.

Follow up appointments are scheduled. In the coming weeks the tumor will shrink and die because it’s DNA was destroyed, and the tumor is ablated in the surgical process.