Gamma Knife radiosurgery (GKRS) utilizes cobalt-60 as its radiation source, and thus dose rate varies as the fixed source decays over its half-life of approximately 5.26 years. This natural decay results in increasing treatment times when delivering the same cumulative dose. It is also possible, however, that the biological effective dose may change based on this dose rate even if the total dose is kept constant. Because patients are generally treated in a uniform manner, radiosurgery for trigeminal neuralgia (TN) represents a clinical model whereby biological efficacy can be tested. The authors hypothesized that higher dose rates would result in earlier and more complete pain relief but only if measured with a sensitive pain assessment tool.
One hundred thirty-three patients were treated with the Gamma Knife Model 4C unit at a single center by a single neurosurgeon during a single cobalt life cycle from January 2006 to May 2012. All patients were treated with 80 Gy with a single 4-mm isocenter without blocking. Using an output factor of 0.87, dose rates ranged from 1.28 to 2.95 Gy/min. The Brief Pain Inventory (BPI)-Facial was administered before the procedure and at the first follow-up office visit 1 month from the procedure (mean 1.3 months). Phone calls were made to evaluate patients after their procedures as part of a retrospective study. Univariate and multivariate linear regression was performed on several independent variables, including sex, age in deciles, diagnosis, follow-up duration, prior surgery, and dose rate.
In the short-term analysis (mean 1.3 months), patients’ self-reported pain intensity at its worst was significantly correlated with dose rate on multivariate analysis (p = 0.028). Similarly, patients’ self-reported interference with activities of daily living was closely correlated with dose rate on multivariate analysis (p = 0.067). A 1 Gy/min decrease in dose rate resulted in a 17% decrease in pain intensity at its worst and a 22% decrease in pain interference with activities of daily living. In longer-term follow-up (mean 1.9 years), GKRS with higher dose rates (> 2.0 Gy/min; p = 0.007) and older age in deciles (p = 0.012) were associated with a lower likelihood of recurrence of pain.
Prior studies investigating the role of dose rate in Gamma Knife radiosurgical ablation for TN have not used validated outcome tools to measure pain preoperatively. Consequently, differences in pain outcomes have been difficult to measure. By administering pain scales both preoperatively as well as postoperatively, the authors have identified statistically significant differences in pain intensity and pain interference with activities of daily living when comparing higher versus lower dose rates. Radiosurgery with a higher dose rate results in more pain relief at the early follow-up evaluation, and it may result in a lower recurrence rate at later follow-up.