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Tuesday, September 8, 1998 Published at 13:33 GMT 14:33 UK


Brain tumour surgery without the scalpel

Gamma knife: taking the scalpel out of brain surgery

The BBC's Christine McGourty: "A wide range of patients could benefit"
A life-saving technique being tested at a London hospital enables doctors to treat brain tumours without the need for surgery.

The high tech equipment, known as a Gamma Knife, will enable neurosurgeons to treat deep seated tumours that were previously inoperable.

It removes the need for traumatic brain surgery, and for follow up radiotherapy.

Instead of surgery, doctors at the Cromwell Hospital subject the tumour to bursts of radiation.

The standard surgical procedure involves opening up the skull to reach inside. It can work well, but the side effects can be traumatic with patients experiencing pain and disorientation after surgery.

[ image: The Gamma Knife bombards the tumour with multiple beams]
The Gamma Knife bombards the tumour with multiple beams
The Gamma Knife is far quicker and painless. It is designed to destroy brain tumours and repair abnormal arteries while leaving healthy normal tissue intact.

The new technology uses more than 200 beams of weak radiation, which are fired together, but can be carefully targeted on to the tumour.

Traditional radiotherapy involves the use of powerful beams of radiation which spread over a wide area, damaging normal tissue as well as the tumour.

Christer Lindquist, consultant neurosurgeon, said: "This is a procedure done on a single location, one day, without anaesthesia.

"The patient can go home the same day or the day after, so it obviously has several advantages in this respect."

Doctors hope the technology could soon be used to treat other forms of cancer.

World Centre

The Gamma Knife technology was originally developed in the 1960s. However, the accurate imaging equipment needed to make the equipment practical to use has only recently been made available.

The Cromwell, which is a private hospital, will become only the third unit in the world to act as training centre for the use of the new technology.

Under a special deal, the hospital will take NHS referrals from across the country at discount rates.

Cromwell spokesman Geoffrey Brandon said: "The Gamma Knife can reach tumours which were so deep-seated they could not be reached by surgery.

"It also avoids the damage that is inevitably done by neurosurgery. People take a long time to recover after brain surgery. They may spend some time in intensive care, and then need a wheelchair.

"After this procedure they can get up and walk away."

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