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Stereotactic radiotherapy for brain tumours

Men and women discussing brain tumours

This page tells you about stereotactic radiotherapy for brain tumours. There are sections about

 

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Stereotactic radiotherapy for brain tumours

Stereotactic radiotherapy is a way of targeting radiotherapy very precisely at the tumour. You have the radiotherapy beams aimed at the tumour from many different directions around your head. It is vitally important that your head is in exactly the same position each time and does not move during the treatment. Stereotactic radiotherapy is usually divided into between 3 and 30 daily doses called fractions.

What this treatment is used for

This type of treatment can be used for secondary brain tumours, gliomas that have come back since they were first treated, small low grade brain tumours with a clear edge, and some benign (non cancerous) brain tumours.

Keeping your head still

To have stereotactic radiotherapy your head needs to be held as still as possible. Doctors call this stereotactic immobilisation. There are a number of different ways of doing this, including making a head frame or stereotactic mask.

Planning your treatment

To plan the treatment, your specialist uses CT scans or MRI scans to work out how to shape the radiotherapy beam to exactly fit the tumour. The normal brain tissue surrounding the tumour then gets a very low dose of radiation. So you generally have fewer side effects than with conventional external beam radiotherapy. But you may feel very tired for a while afterwards.

Having your treatment

You go to the hospital a number of times to have treatment. The treatment itself does not take very long. But it takes a little while for the radiographer to fit the mask and head frame and position you on the radiotherapy table. You can go home as soon as each treatment is over.

 

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What stereotactic radiotherapy is

Stereotactic radiotherapy is a way of targeting radiotherapy very precisely at the tumour. You have the radiotherapy beams aimed at the tumour from many different directions around your head. This type of treatment is not available at all hospitals because it needs specialist equipment and skills.

The radiotherapy treatment is targeted very accurately. So it is vitally important that your head is in exactly the same position each time and does not move while you are being treated.

You have the treatment with a linear accelerator (LINAC). This is the same type of radiotherapy machine used for regular external beam radiotherapy. Stereotactic radiotherapy treatment is usually divided into between 3 and 30 daily doses called fractions. If you only have 1 fraction of very high dose stereotactic radiotherapy, this is called radiosurgery.

 

What stereotactic radiotherapy is used for

This type of treatment can be used for

  • Secondary brain tumours
  • Gliomas that have come back since they were first treated
  • Small low grade brain tumours with a clear edge

It is also used for a number of benign (non cancerous) brain tumours such as

 

Keeping your head still

To have stereotactic radiotherapy your head needs to be kept as still as possible. Doctors call this stereotactic immobilisation. There are a number of different ways of doing this, including making a

Head frame

Your treatment team make a frame to attach to your skull using pins. The frame is made very carefully and specifically for you using information from your scans. You have the scans, planning and treatment all in a single day. This is the most common type of immobilisation for Gamma Knife stereotactic radiotherapy treatment. 

Stereotactic mask 

Another way of fixing the frame is to have a mask made from plastic. It is called a thermoplastic mask. The frame fixes to the mask. The mask in turn attaches to the scanner or radiotherapy machine bed while you are wearing it. This means that you can't move, but there is nothing actually attached to you directly. You can find detailed information about thermoplastic masks and how they are made on the brain tumour radiotherapy page.

Photograph of a stereotatic radiotherapy mask worn for treating brain and head and neck cancers

 

Planning stereotactic radiotherapy

Stereotactic radiotherapy planning is similar to having planning for normal external radiotherapy. Your treatment team use a CT scanner or MRI scanner.

During planning, your specialist uses the scans to work out how to shape the radiotherapy beam so that it exactly fits your tumour. This means that the normal brain tissue surrounding the tumour gets a very low dose of radiation. So you will have fewer side effects than with conventional external beam radiotherapy.

 

Having your treatment

You go to the hospital a number of times to have treatment. The treatment itself does not take very long. But it takes a little while for the radiographer to fit the mask and head frame and position you on the radiotherapy table. You can go home as soon as each treatment is over.

 

Side effects

Stereotactic radiotherapy treatment has fewer side effects than the usual type of radiotherapy. This is because less healthy brain tissue is exposed to radiation. You will not normally have hair loss, feel sick, or have any reddening of your skin. All these are common side effects of regular external beam radiotherapy to the brain. But you may feel very tired for a while afterwards.

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Updated: 27 December 2013