Deborah Korte, left, who had a tumor treated with Gamma Knife in 2010 at UAMS, visits with her doctor, John Day, M.D., who oversaw the treatment.
June 25, 2013 | Debbie Korte thought something was wrong with the telephone at the school where she works. One day in 2009, she answered it and could barely hear the caller’s voice. As soon as she transferred the receiver to her other ear, Korte could hear the caller clearly, and she knew the source of the problem wasn’t the phone.
Her hearing loss was due to an acoustic neuroma, a benign tumor pressing on the acoustic nerve, she later learned.
Though her hearing spontaneously returned soon after, possibly due to a steroid prescription or a shifting of the tumor, there was no doubt the tumor needed to be dealt with to avoid a possible recurrence.
Korte’s primary care doctor continued to see her regularly to monitor its size. By 2010, he had referred her to J.D. Day, M.D., chair of the UAMS College of Medicine Department of Neurosurgery. After consulting with him, she decided to undergo Gamma Knife radiation therapy to shrink the tumor without the need for conventional surgery
After the Gamma Knife treatment, she hasn’t had need for a second treatment in the three years since.
“The option of Gamma Knife, for me, was the only option,” Korte said. “The whole experience was good. I feel like I was lucky. I was placed where I needed to be.”
Day explained that conventional radiation treatment would focus seven or eight high-dose beams on the tumor, but Gamma Knife uses about 190 beams of low-dose radiation on it. On the target tumor, the combined energy of the low-dose beams deliver a high dose of radiation but expose the surrounding tissue to much less radiation than conventional radiation treatment. Those low dose beams are transmitted through a precisely placed helmet device called a halo.
“It’s an alternative to treating the entire brain with radiation, in certain select circumstances,” Day said. “That is preferable. Some people who have whole brain radiotherapy often have cognitive difficulties as a result. You don’t see that with Gamma Knife radiosurgery. They also experience fewer side effects like hair loss.”
Gamma Knife treatment for some patients can be an appealing alternative to open surgery.
After only one full day of rest following the procedure, Korte was back at work.
If she had opted for open surgery to remove the tumor, she likely would have had a few days of inpatient care followed by weeks of rehabilitation therapy.
Korte still has her tumor, but it remains reduced in size. Every year since 2010, she has had an MRI scan for the close monitoring of its growth and size. Her hearing returned after the initial procedure and, except for a high-pitched noise on the edge of her perception, she has experienced no other hearing deficits. Most of the time, she said she’s been able to “tune it out.”
If there are no complications in open surgery on an acoustic neuroma, then its cost is roughly the same as Gamma Knife. However, Gamma Knife helps patients avoid the costs of time off from work, rehabilitation and a hospital stay, Day said.
“It was scary, but I knew I needed to get it taken care of,” Korte said. “The whole experience was good, even wonderful. I have all the confidence in Dr. Day. He made me feel like I was his only patient. He took good care of me.”