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Facing brain surgery? Know all your options

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Posted: Sunday, March 30, 2014 10:00 pm | Updated: 1:35 am, Wed Jul 23, 2014.

(BPT) - Fear is a normal reaction when you’ve just been told your headaches and blurry vision are symptoms of a brain tumor which is serious enough that you will need treatment. Whether you’re facing the prospect of brain cancer or another neurological problem, it’s important to face your concern by becoming informed about your condition and all treatment options.

You are not alone. As of 2010, more than 688,000 Americans have been diagnosed with a primary brain or central nervous system tumor, and nearly 70,000 new cases of primary brain tumors were expected to be diagnosed in 2013, according to the American Brain Tumor Association.

“While conventional surgery may be the only way to go in some cases, Gamma Knife radiosurgery can often serve as an adjunct or alternative for others,” said Dr. Dheerendra Prasad, Medical Director, Radiation Medicine at the Roswell Park Cancer Institute. “It offers excellent accuracy with sub-millimeter precision and can destroy tumors that are very close to critical structures – such as the optic nerve.”

Professional BMX bike rider Josh Perry knows first-hand the benefits of being informed about surgical options. Perry has twice undergone brain surgery to remove cancerous brain tumors near his optic nerve. In 2010, he underwent traditional brain surgery – having never had any type of surgery before. “It was the scariest thing I had to think about, not knowing if I’d lose the ability to see or hear, or not wake up at all,” he says. Post-surgery recovery was long, and it took months before he regained his confidence to continue performing.

When the tumor returned in 2012, Perry opted for Gamma Knife radiosurgery. The radiosurgery experience was vastly different from what he’d gone through with traditional brain surgery.

Gamma Knife radiosurgery “was like getting an MRI done, but shorter,” Perry says. “It wasn’t bad at all.” Best of all, he adds, because radiosurgery is non-invasive, the recovery time was significantly less than with traditional, invasive brain surgery. “I was riding again within a week after the procedure.”

Patients like Perry who face a diagnosis of brain cancer have many options to consider. Common treatments include:

* Traditional surgery – “Going under the knife” is, perhaps, the type of treatment that most often comes to mind for patients who have received a brain cancer diagnosis. For some patients, surgery may afford the best outcome and is often used in combination with other treatments. Drawbacks, however, include risks such as infection and extended period of recovery.

* Chemotherapy – Chemotherapy drugs, taken orally as a pill or injected into a vein, can kill tumor cells. While chemotherapy drugs destroy cancer cells, they can also harm healthy cells within the body. Common side effects include fatigue, nausea and vomiting, weight loss, potential infections and hair loss.

* Drug therapy – Certain drugs can be used to target specific abnormalities in cancer cells, causing those cells to die. Because the drugs target only cancer cells, this type of treatment has fewer side effects than traditional chemotherapy. However, only a small percentage of patients will be able to benefit from these drugs based on the genetic characteristics of their disease.

* Radiation – In this type of therapy, high-energy beams such as X-rays, are used to kill tumor cells. Depending on the type and extent of the cancer, doctors may recommend targeting the area of the brain where the tumor hides, or applying radiation treatment to the entire brain. Side effects include fatigue, headaches and skin irritation of the scalp.

* Radiosurgery – A non-invasive form of surgery, stereotactic radiosurgery uses beams of radiation to deliver a highly focused dose of radiation to tumor cells in a very small area. Multiple beams meet at the target point to create a dose powerful enough to kill tumor cells. Typically, patients need just one treatment and can go home the same day. Common side effects can include fatigue, headache and nausea. For some neurological conditions, radiosurgery may be a better option for some patients.

How you choose to treat your brain tumor will depend on its type, size and location your overall health, your doctor’s recommendations and insights, and your own preferences. Your doctor can help you determine what treatment option is right for you, and remember to seek a second opinion and research all your options before making a decision.

To find a Gamma Knife radiosurgery center and to learn more about the procedure, visit www.gammaknife.com.

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