Stereotactic radiosurgery versus stereotactic radiotherapy for patients with vestibular schwannoma: a Leksell Gamma Knife Society 2000 debate

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  • 1 Department of Neurological Surgery, University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, Little Rock, Arkansas
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✓ By definition, the term “radiosurgery” refers to the delivery of a therapeutic radiation dose in a single fraction, not simply the use of stereotaxy. Multiple-fraction delivery is better termed “stereotactic radiotherapy.” There are compelling radiobiological principles supporting the biological superiority of single-fraction radiation for achieving an optimal therapeutic response for the slowly proliferating, late-responding, tissue of a schwannoma. It is axiomatic that complication avoidance requires precise three-dimensional conformality between treatment and tumor volumes. This degree of conformality can only be achieved through complex multiisocenter planning. Alternative radiosurgery devices are generally limited to delivering one to four isocenters in a single treatment session. Although they can reproduce dose plans similar in conformality to early gamma knife dose plans by using a similar number of isocenters, they cannot reproduce the conformality of modern gamma knife plans based on magnetic resonance image—targeted localization and five to 30 isocenters.

A disturbing trend is developing in which institutions without nongamma knife radiosurgery (GKS) centers are championing and/or shifting to hypofractionated stereotactic radiotherapy for vestibular schwannomas. This trend appears to be driven by a desire to reduce complication rates to compete with modern GKS results by using complex multiisocenter planning. Aggressive advertising and marketing from some of these centers even paradoxically suggests biological superiority of hypofractionation approaches over single-dose radiosurgery for vestibular schwannomas. At the same time these centers continue to use the term radiosurgery to describe their hypofractionated radiotherapy approach in an apparent effort to benefit from a GKS “halo effect.” It must be reemphasized that as neurosurgeons our primary duty is to achieve permanent tumor control for our patients and not to eliminate complications at the expense of potential late recurrence. The answer to minimizing complications while maintaining maximum tumor control is improved conformality of radiosurgery dose planning and not resorting to homeopathic radiosurgery doses or hypofractionation radiotherapy schemes.

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Contributor Notes

Address reprint requests to: Mark E. Linskey, M.D., Department of Neurosurgery, Slot 507, University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, 4301 West Markham Street, Little Rock, Arkansas 72205–7199. email: linskeymarke@exchange.uams.edu.
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