Advanced Radiosurgery Treatment at Swedish | by Jeannette Moninger | photos by Megan Aurich

Gammaknife, Advanced Radiosurgery Treatment at Swedish

Posted on Tue, May 7, 2019

Helps Wyoming Rancher Thrive

In a strange twist of fate, Wyoming rancher Randy Stevenson may owe his life to a car accident that nearly killed him. On a crisp fall day in October 2004, Stevenson crossed the center line and sideswiped a truck hauling gravel while driving back to his homestead in Wheatland, about 70 miles north of Cheyenne. Fortunately, neither driver was seriously hurt, and Stevenson was able to make it to his scheduled eye examination the next day. It was there that the then-50-year-old rancher learned he had complete left-side peripheral vision loss. “Apparently, my brain had been compensating for this blindness without me realizing anything was wrong,” he says. “When I hit that car, I could have sworn I was completely on my side of the road.”

Center for Stereotactic Radiosurgery at Swedish Medical Center
Charli and Randy Stevenson

A magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan revealed a hemangiopericytoma, a slow-growing, rare type of tumor that develops in cells around blood vessels in the brain. Stevenson soon underwent surgery in Cheyenne to remove the tumor, which was benign (not cancerous). But because hemangiopericytomas grow back, his doctors recommended he head south to the Center for Stereotactic Radiosurgery at Swedish Medical Center for state-of-the-art radiation treatment.  

Swedish Medical Center is one of only two facilities in Colorado, and one of seven locations in the western United States, to offer stereotactic radiosurgery. Also called Gamma Knife® radiosurgery (the trademark name for the technology), this treatment concentrates hundreds of highly focused radiation beams to target tumors inside the brain. The radiation damages cancer cells, preventing them from multiplying and growing. Radiosurgery is a knifeless treatment, meaning there’s no cutting of the skull.

Advanced Radiosurgery Treatment at Swedish Helps People with Brain Tumors

Prior to the introduction of radiosurgery in the early 1980s, people with brain tumors underwent traditional radiation therapy. Although effective, the treatment hit a larger section of the brain, injuring healthy cells along with diseased ones. As a result, the number of times a patient could receive radiation was limited to prevent extensive permanent damage to the brain. “Stereotactic radiosurgery is a very precise procedure that allows us to target only the diseased portion of the brain without affecting surrounding healthy brain tissue and cells,” says Dr. Marshall Davis, a radiation oncologist at Swedish Medical Center. “As a result, patients can undergo radiosurgery multiple times without experiencing problems.” 

When Stevenson had his first stereotactic radiosurgery in early 2005, the treatment required the use of a head frame. The frame was pinned to a patient’s skull to prevent movement and ensure the radiation beams hit the intended target. Although radiosurgery is essentially painless, the head frame was uncomfortable. Patients typically received a sedative to calm nerves and a mild topical anesthetic at the pin sites. “I often got a compression headache from the pins pushing into my skull, and then another headache after the pins were removed and the pressure released,” recalls Stevenson.

Dr. D. Marshall Davis is a radiation oncology specialist at Swedish Medical Center.
Dr. D. Marshall Davis is a radiation oncology specialist at Swedish Medical Center.

In 2018, Swedish Medical Center switched to a frameless device for radiosurgery. The day prior to treatment, a medical team custom makes a thermoplastic mask that fits a patient’s unique facial features (the mask has an opening for the nose so the patient can easily breathe). On the day of the procedure, a nurse places the mask on a patient’s face and then secures it to the table. The secured mask keeps the patient from moving his or her head. A small reflective marker placed on the patient’s nose helps the team check for potential movements that would affect the treatment’s accuracy. “The mask is so much more comfortable,” says Stevenson, “It’s really no different than getting an MRI. You experience a warm sensation like being outside on a sunny summer day.”

The actual radiosurgery takes place as an outpatient procedure and lasts less than 30 minutes. “Our patients generally go home after about four hours and resume normal activities within a few days,” says Dr. Davis. Stevenson can attest to the amazing powers of this treatment having undergone eight stereotactic radiosurgery procedures, and one more brain surgery, since his initial diagnosis. “My advice to anyone who has a significant health issue is to seek out the best doctors and medical center you can find,” he says, “because their outcomes are going to be so much better and more consistent, which only means good things for you.”

A team of nine neurosurgeons and Dr. Davis (a radiation oncologist) have performed more than 1,000 stereotactic radiosurgery procedures at Swedish Medical Center since 2004. The treatment is most often used to treat brain tumors and lesions, including arteriovenous malformation (AVM), meningiomas, pituitary tumors and acoustic neuromas. It also can treat metastatic cancer that develops in the brain as the result of other cancers, such as breast, lung or prostate cancer. As a Neuroscience Center of Excellence, Swedish Medical Center offers advanced, comprehensive care for all types of neurological disorders and diseases. 

Swedish Medical Center radiation treatment


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