Stereotactic radiosurgery is a form of radiation therapy. It delivers high doses of radiation in tiny beams of energy that target tumors and brain abnormalities while avoiding healthy tissue. Healthcare providers use this to treat cancerous and noncancerous brain tumors, brain abnormalities and cancerous tumors in your lungs, liver or pancreas.
Stereotactic radiosurgery is a form of external beam radiation therapy (EBRT). Despite its name, stereotactic radiosurgery doesn’t involve incisions. Instead, this radiation therapy uses machines that pinpoint issues with many tiny beams of high-dose radiation.
Radiation oncologists and neurosurgeons use stereotactic radiosurgery to treat certain brain conditions — including brain tumors — and small tumors in other parts of your body. Stereotactic radiosurgery lets healthcare providers target problem areas while minimizing potential damage to healthy tissue.
All types of stereotactic radiosurgery target tumors and abnormalities with many tiny beams of radiation. On their own, the beams don’t damage healthy tissue. When the tiny beams come together, they deliver a powerful dose of radiation.
Stereotactic radiosurgery types include:
Radiation oncologists and neurosurgeons use stereotactic radiosurgery for small cancerous or benign (not cancerous) tumors in your brain and certain areas of your body. Neurosurgeons may use it to treat brain abnormalities.
Stereotactic radiosurgery treats tumors by damaging the DNA in cancerous cells so that tumors stop growing, including:
Like cancerous brain tumors, stereotactic radiosurgery keeps benign tumors from growing by damaging tumor cells’ DNA. Radiation oncologists use it to treat:
Stereotactic radiosurgery targets brain abnormalities or the area of your brain that shows symptoms. Examples include arteriovenous malformation (AVM) and tremors associated with neurological disorders, like Parkinson’s disease or trigeminal neuralgia.
Stereotactic radiosurgery also treats other kinds of cancerous tumors, like:
All types of stereotactic radiosurgery involve extensive planning, but the exact process may vary depending on the treatment type. In general, your team will:
The specific process depends on the type of stereotactic radiosurgery you’re having and what part of your body needs treatment.
For example, if you’re having Gamma Knife® treatment for a brain tumor, you’ll lie on a table that’s attached to the Gamma Knife unit with your head facing the unit. The table will slide into the unit, where your treatment will begin. But if you’re having stereotactic body radiation therapy, radiation streams from the arm of a machine.
In general, you can expect your team to:
Stereotactic radiosurgery may take one to four hours, depending on the specific treatment you get.
You’re able to go home after treatment, but your team may ask you to remain at the treatment facility for 30 minutes to a few hours so they can watch for any side effects.
Radiation side effects are often site-specific, which means you’re most likely to experience side effects in the parts of your body exposed to treatment.
Most often, stereotactic radiation therapy treats issues in your brain, but it may be used for small tumors in certain organs or areas of your body. As a result, you may have different side effects. Fatigue is a common side effect, regardless of the treatment areas. Other common side effects may include:
Benefits and advantages include:
Rarely, people who have stereotactic radiosurgery for brain issues may develop late effects, including:
Contact your healthcare provider if you notice symptoms that may be late effects of radiation therapy. They’ll work with you to manage side effects. They may recommend prescribed anti-inflammatory medication and/or speech therapy, occupational therapy or physical therapy.
Everyone’s different, but side effects like fatigue, nausea and vomiting typically go away between one or two days to a few weeks.
Success rates vary depending on factors like your overall health and the condition for which you receive treatment. Ask your radiation care provider what you can expect based on your situation.
Contact your radiation care provider if you have side effects that are worse than you anticipated.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Stereotactic radiosurgery focuses tiny, powerful beams of energy on tumors and brain abnormalities. The procedure pinpoints radiation on tumors and brain abnormalities, not on healthy tissue. Depending on your situation, you may only need one treatment session. But stereotactic radiosurgery, like any radiation therapy, can be stressful. You may feel anxious about the process. Your radiation care team understands you may have questions and concerns, so don’t hesitate to ask. Knowing what to expect may help you to feel more at ease.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 10/09/2023.
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