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March 19, 2013 > Brain Awareness Week Celebrates Benefits of Brain Research

Brain Awareness Week Celebrates Benefits of Brain Research

New study shows earlier use of Gamma Knife radiosurgery can help prevent permanent hearing loss from non-cancerous brain tumor

This week is Brain Awareness Week, a global campaign to increase public awareness of the progress and benefits of brain research. Event sponsor the Dana Alliance for Brain Initiatives states, "disorders of the brain are a major cause of death and disability worldwide" so "finding ways to prevent, treat, and cure disorders of the nervous system is a primary goal of neuroscience research."

Here in the Tri-City area, the latest neuroscience research is having an impact on advanced medical care offered at Washington Hospital's Taylor McAdam Bell Neuroscience Institute. One example is a French study of treatment for acoustic neuroma, a non-cancerous brain tumor located on the main nerve leading from the inner ear to the brain.

Neurosurgeon Sandeep Kunwar, M.D., co-medical director of the Institute's Gamma Knife program, reports the study shows Gamma Knife radiosurgery for acoustic neuroma, when done at an earlier stage than recommended previously, can lessen the chance of a patient experiencing permanent hearing damage.

"Sometimes, people with acoustic neuroma have no symptoms, especially in the early stages. Until now, doctors believed simply monitoring the tumor was often the best strategy," explained Dr. Kunwar. "But, if the tumor grows, patients are at risk of being unable to recover their hearing."

"Data from this new study indicates radiosurgery with the Gamma Knife, when done at an earlier stage, increases the likelihood of preserving a patient's hearing," he continued. "For this reason and because the Gamma Knife has an excellent record of safety and effectiveness, we are becoming more aggressive in treating acoustic neuromas."

About 3,000 Americans are diagnosed with acoustic neuroma each year. This type of benign tumor represents from 5 percent to 10 percent of all brain tumors in adults. People in their 40s and 50s tend to be at higher risk of having an acoustic neuroma.

"Acoustic neuromas usually grow slowly, with symptoms appearing gradually," said Dr. Kunwar.

Symptoms may include ringing in the ear or increasing dizziness and problems with balance, sometimes accompanied by nausea or vomiting. There may also be hearing loss, usually in one ear, or a feeling of pressure in the ear.

"If you have these symptoms, especially hearing loss, ringing in your ear or difficulty with balance, you should see your doctor," recommended Dr. Kunwar.

Diagnosing an acoustic neuroma can be difficult, especially in its early stages, he added. One reason is that the symptoms are similar to those experienced by people who have middle or inner ear problems.

To check for an acoustic neuroma, doctors perform an ear exam and hearing test. An MRI, or magnetic resonance image, is taken to confirm the existence, size and location of the tumor.

When a neurosurgeon determines that the acoustic neuroma should be treated, options include traditional open surgery or minimally invasive endoscopic microsurgery to remove the tumor. With surgery, there is a risk that the patient's facial nerve or hearing may be damaged. Radiation therapy is another option to slow or stop tumor growth

"Gamma Knife radiosurgery is an excellent alternative to surgery and other forms of conventional radiation therapy," stated Dr. Kunwar. "Compared to surgery, the Gamma Knife controls tumor growth 97 percent of the time, and the chance of facial nerve injury is less than 1 percent. There is also a much lower risk of infection than with conventional surgery."

Gamma Knife radiosurgery is nearly painless, and patients usually return home the same day the procedures is done, resuming normal activities the day after that. Rather than making an incision to remove the tumor, the Gamma Knife uses precisely focused beams of radiation to stop the tumor's growth without the risk of harming nearby tissue. This is especially critical when tumors are located near sensitive areas of the brain.

Dr. Kunwar is part of a skilled team of experts at Washington Hospital that includes physicians and surgeons, a physicist, technologists, nurses and other health care professionals. At the Taylor McAdam Bell Neuroscience Institute, they treat adults and children with a wide range of neurological problems.

The Leksell Gamma Knife PERFEXION, which is the Institute's technological cornerstone, is the worldwide gold standard for non-invasive radiosurgical treatment of many conditions involving the head and neck. Besides benign brain tumors, the Gamma Knife is used to treat malignant tumors, brain aneurysms, epilepsy, neurovascular diseases, spinal conditions and movement disorders.

Learn more

To find out more about the Gamma Knife Program at Washington Hospital, go to www.gammaknifeprogram.com. For more information about Washington Hospital, visit www.whhs.com. For more about Brain Awareness Week, visit the Web site of the Dana Foundation at www.dana.org.

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