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Learning About Radiosurgery

What is radiosurgery?

Stereotactic radiosurgery (SRS) is a form of radiation treatment. It's most often used to kill cancer cells in the head or the neck. The treatment focuses many beams of radiation from different angles onto the tumour. The combined beams put a higher, more concentrated dose on the tumour without damaging the healthy tissue around it.

In most cases, SRS can destroy a tumour with one treatment. The treatment takes less than a day.

With SRS, the skin is not cut, and nothing is taken out of the body. Radiosurgery has "surgery" in its name because the treatment is precise, as if the tumour were being removed with surgery.

This procedure can also treat blood vessel problems in the brain or problems with movement, like those related to Parkinson's disease. Some treatment centres are able to use SRS to treat tumours in other parts of the body.

How is it done?

During treatment, your head must be held very still so the beams can be aimed accurately. The doctor will place a frame around your head. After numbing the skin, your doctor may fit pins in the frame and make them tight against your head. Or you may have a mask that fits closely on your head. The doctor may give you medicine to help you relax while you're wearing the frame or mask.

Your doctor will then take an MRI or CT scan of your head. The scan helps create a 3D map of the tumour and the area around it. A computer uses the map to figure out the exact size, shape, and location of the tumour. This guides the doctor in setting up the angles and strength of the radiation beams.

When the machine is ready, you will lie down on the machine's table. Your frame or mask will be attached to the table.

The treatment can take up to 2 hours. Parts of the machine may move and make noise while they deliver the radiation. The sound may worry you, but the machine is under the doctor's control. If you are nervous, talk to the doctor, nurse, or radiation technologist who is present during the treatment. The radiation is painless.

Your doctor may give you medicine to help prevent swelling of the tissue around the tumour.

What can you expect after radiosurgery?

  • The frame will be removed from your head. If pins were used and they broke the skin, the doctor will apply bandages.
  • You will probably go home in about an hour after the treatment. Be sure to have someone drive you home.
  • Your doctor may give you specific instructions on when you can do your normal activities again, such as driving and going back to work.
  • Side effects vary from person to person and are most often mild. You may feel tired after treatment. Some people have a headache or an upset stomach.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse advice line (811 in most provinces and territories) if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

Where can you learn more?

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