Radiosurgery Delivers Targeted Treatment for Brain Tumors
By Patrick Connolly, MD, Neurosurgeon, Penn Medicine | Virtua Neuroscience Program
David Wilson, MD, Radiation Oncologist, Penn Medicine | Virtua Cancer Program
Brain tumor treatments have come a long way in the past decade and continue to evolve. Thanks to these advances, the neurosurgeons and radiation oncologists at the Penn Medicine | Virtua Neuroscience Program and the Penn Medicine | Virtua Cancer Program use targeted radiosurgery technology to improve outcomes for patients with brain cancer, while minimizing side effects, risks and discomfort.
What is radiosurgery?
Radiosurgery, also called stereotactic radiosurgery (SRS), uses advanced computer and imaging technology to pinpoint brain tumors and deliver targeted, highly accurate radiation treatment without affecting the surrounding, healthy brain tissue.
This procedure provides all the advantages of traditional open surgery without requiring an incision. And, it delivers effective, accurate treatment for the most complex cancerous and benign brain tumors.
What's the difference between radiosurgery and conventional radiation?
Radiosurgery uses high-energy rays to deliver high doses of radiation directly to the brain tumor site in a single treatment. Traditional radiation therapy delivers lower doses of radiation to the entire brain during multiple treatments—typically 10 daily treatments over 2 weeks.
Radiosurgery is performed by a neurosurgeon in collaboration with a radiation oncologist and is used to treat single, small tumors. A radiation oncologist typically performs conventional whole-brain radiation, which is commonly used to treat multiple tumors or large tumors.
Because the highly targeted x-rays are aimed at the brain tumor and don’t damage surrounding healthy brain tissue, radiosurgery typically has fewer side effects than traditional whole-brain radiation.
What are the side effects of radiosurgery and conventional radiation?
The side effects of radiosurgery may include fatigue, headache and short-term memory loss but many people don’t notice any significant side effects.
Because whole-brain radiation is a more radical approach to brain tumor treatment, the side effects can be more severe including increased fatigue, hair loss and impaired short-term memory.
What can you expect during radiosurgery treatment?
At Virtua, we deliver radiosurgery treatments using non-invasive, custom-made masks. This system is more convenient and comfortable than other systems that require rigid metal frames that are surgically attached to the patient’s head while under anesthesia.
Our frameless radiosurgery treatments require one planning session. A few days after the planning session, treatment is delivered in a single 45-90 minute session.
Systems that use a rigid frame often take several hours, including the procedure for attaching the frame, getting an MRI while wearing the frame, the radiation treatment and the frame removal.
Can radiosurgery be combined with other treatments?
Our neurosurgeons and radiation oncologists conduct a thorough assessment of each patient and work together to consider all available methods and develop the best treatment plan. Our treatment recommendation takes many factors into account, including tumor type, tumor size and the affected area of the brain.
Although radiosurgery usually is used as an alternative to traditional open surgery, it also can be used in combination with radiation, chemotherapy and traditional surgery. In addition, radiosurgery can be used to treat brain tumors caused by metastasis from another cancer, as well as primary tumors that originated in the brain.
The neurosurgeons and radiation oncologists with the Penn Medicine | Virtua Neuroscience Program and Penn Medicine | Virtua Cancer Program use radiosurgery to provide effective brain tumor treatment with minimal side effects, risks and discomfort.
For more information about brain tumor treatment options or radiosurgery,
Updated February 4, 2022