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Stereotactic radiosurgery spares healthy tissue, offers decreased side effects

Doctors describe stereotactic radiosurgery as a treatment that offers an increased chance for complete cure and decreased side effects.

The treatment is available at Baptist Health Louisville’s Radiation Center, which includes the Novalis Shaped Beam Surgery System. Stereotactic radiosurgery joins the center’s existing high-technology equipment and techniques such as intensity-modulated and image-guided radiation therapy (IMRT and IGRT).

The beauty of the new minimally-invasive system is its ability to accurately deliver high radiation doses to small and even hard-to-reach tumor areas, while sparing nearby healthy tissue. The system is used in treating benign and malignant brain tumors; lesions in the spine, lungs, liver or prostate; intractable facial pain; and arterial venous malformations in the head (abnormal collections of enlarged blood vessels).

This is an outpatient technique typically accomplished in less than one hour, that allows treatment of otherwise untreatable disease. To help patients relax and lie still during treatment, the ceiling above them features calming photographs of blue sky and clouds.

Stereotactic radiosurgery is capable of treating tumors without the need for open surgery, and there is virtually no recovery time from the procedure. Because the procedure is not invasive, there is a reduction in risks associated with conventional, open surgery.

While it’s called radiosurgery, there are no surgical instruments and the procedure is not invasive. But, it’s referred to as a surgery for its ability to have such a dramatic effect on the targeted tumor, distorting the DNA of the tumor’s cells so they are unable to reproduce.

During treatment the shape of the beam is matched to the size and shape of the patient’s tumor or lesion. Because it’s so precise, a single high dose of radiation may be given in a one-day session. Or, radiation may be given over a period of a few days (stereotactic radiotherapy), depending on what’s best for the patient.

The mechanical exactness of the equipment makes it possible to pinpoint and target tumors with sub-millimeter accuracy. To achieve this precision, information from CT and MRI imaging data can be used to create a three-dimensional model of the tumor and the normal tissues surrounding it.

Radiation oncologists and other specialists work in tandem to precisely identify the area to be treated and collaborate to produce a computerized treatment plan. Then, sophisticated software programs compare and align the three-dimensional patient set-up information with X-ray images taken at the time of treatment.

The machine is extremely precise. The image-guided technology, in conjunction with the robotic table, can position the patient to within 0.02 inches of the intended location – about the thickness of a thin piece of cardboard.

Because of this precision, the dose to the tumor can be escalated with even greater sparing of radiation to critical structures than can be achieved with conventional radiotherapy techniques.

For more information or for physician referral, call the Baptist Health Information Center at (502) 897-8131 or e-mail