BY KAREN GERHARDINGER | MIRROR REPORTER — With a name like Gamma Knife, it’s easy to picture a gigantic sword, but the latest addition to the Mercy Health Perrysburg Cancer Center is state-of-the-art technology that treats brain tumors, neuromas and vascular abnormalities without surgery.
“The Gamma Knife is 192 precisely focused gamma rays that converge into one precise point within an accuracy of 0.4 mm to target areas of the brain affected by tumors, Parkinson’s disease and other neurological conditions,” explained Dr. Suketu Patel, medical director for Mercy Health Radiation Oncology.
With the Gamma Knife, patients don’t need to undergo anesthesia or incisions and have little discomfort. Because of the precision, even difficult-to-reach tumors can be treated without damaging adjacent critical tissue.
“It is an excellent tool for cancer care, as well as for benign tumors where surgery could be challenging or is not an option,” Patel said.
The process can be done in just one outpatient visit to Perrysburg. The Gamma Knife technology has been available since the 1980s, but until now local patients had to travel to Cleveland, Detroit or Cincinnati for treatment.
“We are the only hospital with a Gamma Knife in the entire Northwest Ohio area,” Patel said.
Walking through the Mercy Health Perrysburg Cancer Center last week, Patel opened a thick, leaded door to reveal the Gamma Knife. He laughed at recalling how moving the 20-ton unit into the cancer center required Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and Nuclear Regulatory Com-mission escorts, since the cobalt that is slowly decaying and emitting gamma rays is considered a radioactive substance. That’s why only hospital employees with FBI clearance have authorized access.
While the Gamma Knife concept is decades old, its applications and use have improved over the years.
“We’re getting better at mapping areas of the brain. We know where certain tracks are – such as those causing tremors – and we can disrupt them with certainty,” Patel said.
A multidisciplinary team of specialists takes MRI and CT scans of the brain to determine the exact location of a tumor or lesion, and this is verified again on the day of treatment with a fresh MRI.
“We do a lot of planning and mapping before the treatment,” Patel said.
During that day-of planning, the patient can hang out in the waiting room or go shopping or have lunch at Levis Commons. With no anesthesia or cutting, the process is painless and unobtrusive.
Even patient comfort has improved. In the early days of Gamma Knife surgery, a frame had to be attached to the patient’s head; now, a breathable mask is molded to each individual’s face in order to hold the head still during the 15 to 60 minutes of treatment.
“We lullaby them with music. Some people even fall asleep. They don’t feel anything,” Patel said.
Since the arrival of the Gamma Knife in Perrysburg, Mercy Health has treated more than 30 patients. A team of physicians meets monthly to review new cases and progress after treatments.
Used as an alternative to traditional surgery or after surgery, and for a variety of diagnoses, there’s one metric that shows the Gamma Knife is a better modality – accuracy.
“The Gamma Knife offers a very proven, high-precision yet high-dose approach to targeting lesions in the brain and minimizing damage to normal tissue, therefore allowing for fewer side effects, a much more affordable recovery and significantly less long-term consequences than conventional radiation,” said Dr. Zubair Ahammad, Mercy Health neurosurgeon. “It is the standard of care to treat many forms of brain tumors as well as other neurological conditions.”
In addition to Patel, two more radiation oncologists will be joining the team to operate the Gamma Knife, which is available to patients of Mercy Health as well as other health systems.
Mercy Health Perrysburg Hospital began as a freestanding emergency room with onsite laboratory and imaging services. The Cancer Center opened in 2016 and offers 18 chairs and private rooms for patients who are undergoing infusions such as chemo-therapy and other non-cancer related treatments for conditions such as osteoporosis and autoimmune diseases.
“Mercy Health physicians take a multidisciplinary approach to insure the most comprehensive treatment possible for patients,” Patel said. Even clinical trials on par with big academic centers are available at the cancer center through the NCI Community Oncology Re-search Program (NCORP). With the opening of 46 inpatient rooms and new operating suites in 2019, Mercy Health Perrysburg is now a community hospital and comprehensive cancer center all in one.
“Having the ability to provide inpatient care on-site makes a difference for patients coming in through the ER or cancer center and needing to stay overnight,” Patel said.
Andrea Gwyn, president of Mercy Health Perrysburg Hospital, explained that 30 years ago, most hospitals were large and often in downtown areas.
“Now, with advances in technology, we are able to increase the level of access to complex procedures and testing to locations just across from your local grocery store. Within Mercy Health we have a system of care that provides convenient access to comprehensive care at Mercy Health Perrysburg Hospital,” Gwyn said.
For more information on the Gamma Knife or Mercy Health Perrysburg Hospital, visit www.mercy.com.