Patients diagnosed with aggressive cancers that spread to the brain now have access to a tumour-zapping tool at Sunnybrook Hospital that’s the first of its kind in Canada.
The Gamma Knife Icon has the ability to direct low-dose radiation with pinpoint precision at only the tumours in the brain, sparing a patient from all-brain radiation and the nasty side-effects that come with it.
"This is the most precise brain radiosurgery in the world," said Dr. Arjun Sahgal, deputy chief of the department of radiation oncology at Sunnybrook Hospital. "We can essentially deliver focal radiation with sub-millimetre precision."
Sunnybrook Hospital and Dr. Sahgal began treating patients with the Gamma Knife in June. The majority of patients have a form of cancer that spread from another part of the body to the brain. Many present with multiple brain tumours and are facing a terminal diagnosis.
"With the new drugs that are available, there are patients that live years with metastatic disease," Dr. Sahgal said. "Now that can mean they can also live years with the adverse effects of treatment, so we want to prevent the use of whole-brain radiation."
Another perk of going under the Gamma Knife is no incisions are needed at all, Dr. Sahgal says. Patients are fitted with customized masks to keep their head in place during the procedure, meaning drilling a halo into the skull with four screws is no longer required.
David Dang, whose mother is undergoing radiosurgery to treat more than 20 tumours in the brain, says he’s hopeful the machine will buy him more time with his mom.
"I’m hoping it gives her the best chance of controlling the cancer … and hopefully extending her life," Dang said.
As for the results, Dr. Sahgal says what they’re seeing so far is promising with tumours shrinking or disappearing completely, ultimately buying those with a terminal diagnosis more time.
"That’s why we invested in this technology," Sahgal said. "It’s buying people potentially more time and better time."