Noninvasive Outpatient Radiation Procedure Helps Treat Brain Tumors

Karla Dirks enjoying the company of her family

Karla Dirks enjoying the company of her family

Karla Dirks was looking forward to a great road trip to St. Louis with her sister, but it ended with an injury followed by more bad news.

While attending a Cardinals’ playoff game in 2011, Karla fell and hit the back of her head on a concrete step while returning to her seat following the seventh-inning stretch.

A follow-up CT scan revealed a brain tumor – news that left her scared and surprised since she hadn’t experienced any symptoms to hint that something was wrong. The tumor was a meningioma, which grows from the membranes that surround the brain and spinal cord. Somewhat easing her concerns, she learned that these tumors were slow growing and often not malignant.

Her doctor referred her to Brian Russell, MD, a Springfield Clinic neurosurgeon, who explained that she had three options: brain surgery followed by two to three months off work to recuperate; do nothing and keep an eye on the tumor; or an outpatient procedure called stereotactic radiosurgery that would not require an incision.

The procedure is a form of radiation therapy that can control and decrease the size of tumors without putting patients through the risks involved with a standard operation. That option sounded excellent to Karla, who has three adult children and five grandchildren.

Her next step was to meet with James Wynstra, MD, a radiation oncologist with University Radiologists in Springfield, to discuss what the procedure would involve. “Dr. Wynstra spent an hour with me,” she said, “and explained it in a way I could understand.” Memorial’s Regional Cancer Center is one of only a few healthcare facilities in the nation to have two top-of-the-line Varian TrueBeam linear accelerators, which shape the beams used for radiation therapy to treat cancer of prevent tumor growth. The procedure was planned for January 2012.

Karla entered the procedure with little anxiety and feeling relaxed. Making it easier, “everyone around me explained exactly what they were doing,” she said. Dr. Russell attached the halo – a large metal ring – to her skull, which would ensure her head would not move when the linear accelerator delivered its precisely targeted radiation treatment. Dr. Wynstra developed the treatment plan, making sure the surrounding normal tissue didn’t receive a dose of radiation that was too high. The entire procedure was less than 30 minutes, and then Karla went back to her home in Athens.

“I was just amazed at what they can do,” Karla said. “I didn’t know this even existed.”