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Gamma Knife surgery for acoustic neuroma preserves remaining hearing

Sandra knew something was wrong with her hearing. As a surgery scheduler, she wore a headset over her right ear—and could hear no background conversations. A former employee of an ear, nose and throat practice, she thought she needed to have her ears cleaned. A hearing test confirmed hearing loss in her left ear. “I couldn’t understand sounds. I could really only hear the higher frequencies,” she said.

Sandra was referred for an MRI, which detected a small acoustic neuroma—a benign tumor sitting on a nerve in the auditory canal, close to the brainstem. “It was a shock to find it was there,” she recalls. “I’m a pretty healthy person. As we age, things change, and I expected a little hearing loss—but not this.”

After researching her condition, Sandra quickly decided she wanted to have Gamma Knife surgery, a type of radiation therapy. She was referred to Herbert Wang, MD, radiation oncologist with South Sound Gamma Knife. “I knew I wanted Gamma Knife,” Sandra said. “I wanted to preserve what hearing was left in that ear.”

The prospect of having radiation with Gamma Knife was definitely daunting. “It’s stressful,” Sandra said. “But it’s nothing compared to what could have been.”

Sandra’s uncle had a very large acoustic neuroma that required surgery and led to a stroke. “The uncertainty of waiting, knowing something is growing in your head…my emotional and mental relief at being a candidate and having Gamma Knife was huge,” Sandra said. “My family, my mom and my girls, were so relieved.”

Gamma Knife focuses up to 192 tiny beams of radiation onto a single focal point, blasting the target with powerful radiation while leaving surrounding tissue unharmed. Sandra’s adult daughters, Jayme-Lynn and Molly, were with her as hospital staff placed the frame, as she was wheeled on a gurney to South Sound Gamma Knife, and while Dr. Wang and neurosurgeon Marc Goldman, MD, finalized her treatment plan. The first patient of the day, Sandra was home again by noon.

“The actual procedure only lasted about 20 minutes,” she said. “Recovery was great; no pain medication needed. I was a little groggy from the sedative, but that was all.”

Sandra’s acoustic neuroma was found in February 2019 and she had Gamma Knife stereotactic radiosurgery in April. In November, a follow-up MRI scan confirmed the good news: the acoustic neuroma’s size was unchanged—the Gamma Knife had done its job and tumor growth was arrested.

Other than occasional numbness at one pin site, Sandra has no residual effects from Gamma Knife treatment.

Sandra says, “That’s the gift to me, that I didn’t lose my hearing.”

Sandra

Sandra says, “That’s the gift to me, that I didn’t lose my hearing.