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In this study the authors address the efficacy and safety of Gamma Knife surgery (GKS) in patients with adrenocorticotropic hormone–secreting pituitary adenomas.


A review of data collected from a prospective GKS database between January 1990 and March 2005 was performed in patients with Cushing's disease. All but one patient underwent resection for a pituitary tumor, without achieving remission. Successful endocrine outcome after GKS was defined as a normal 24-hour urinary free cortisol (UFC) concentration posttreatment after a minimum of 1 year of follow up. Patient records were also evaluated for changes in tumor volume, development of new hormone deficiencies, visual acuity, cranial nerve neuropathies, and radiation-induced imaging changes. Ninety evaluable patients had undergone GKS, with a mean endocrine follow-up duration of 45 months (range 12–132 months). The mean dose to the tumor margin was 23 Gy (median 25 Gy).

Normal 24-hour UFC levels were achieved in 49 patients (54%), with an average time of 13 months after treatment (range 2–67 months). In the 49 patients in whom a tumor was visible on the planning magnetic resonance (MR) image, a decrease in tumor size occurred in 39 (80%), in seven patients there was no change in size, and tumor growth occurred in three patients. Ten patients (20%) experienced a relapse of Cushing's disease after initial remission; the mean time to recurrence was 27 months (range 6–60 months). Seven of these patients underwent repeated GKS, with three patients achieving a second remission. New hormone deficiencies developed in 20 patients (22%), with hypothyroidism being the most common endocrinopathy after GKS. Five patients experienced new visual deficits or third, fourth, or sixth cranial nerve deficits; two of these patients had undergone prior conventional fractionated radiation therapy, and four of them had received previous GKS. Radiation-induced changes were observed on MR images in three patients; one had symptoms attributable to these changes.


Gamma Knife surgery is an effective treatment for persistent Cushing's disease. Adenomas with cavernous sinus invasion that are not amenable to resection are treatable with the Gamma Knife. A second GKS treatment appears to increase the risk of cranial nerve damage. These results demonstrate the value of combining two neurosurgical treatment modalities—microsurgical resection and GKS—in the management of pituitary adenomas.

Abbreviations used in this paper:ACTH = adrenocorticotropic hormone; CT = computed tomography; GKS = Gamma Knife surgery; MR = magnetic resonance; UFC = urinary free cortisol.

Article Information

Address reprint requests to: Jason P. Sheehan, M.D., Ph.D., Department of Neurological Surgery, University of Virginia Health System, P.O. Box 800212, Charlottesville, Virginia 22908-00212. email:

© AANS, except where prohibited by US copyright law.



  • View in gallery

    Flowchart summarizing the patients treated in this series. Ad = adrenalectomy; F/U = follow up; GK = Gamma Knife; Med = medication; mo = months; Rx = prescribed; TSS = transsphenoidal surgery.

  • View in gallery

    Upper: Scatterplot showing the time course to endocrine remission in eight patients with pituitary adenoma. Lower: Scatterplot showing time to recurrence in four patients who initially had a remission of Cushing's disease after GKS.


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