How CyberKnife technology is helping patients with non-cancerous conditions

Chronic facial pain sufferer says CyberKnife improved the quality of her life

The revolutionary technology of CyberKnife radiation treatment at the Nancy N. and J.C. Lewis Cancer & Research Pavilion has made a difference in countless cancer patients’ lives. The CyberKnife technology also is making strides in improving the quality of life in patients with non-cancerous conditions.

Agnes Anderson
Agnes Anderson

Agnes Anderson heard of CyberKnife when her sister was exploring treatment options for breast cancer. Anderson never imagined what she thought as only a treatment for tumors would one day help her with a debilitating condition.

For five years, Anderson either lived in pain or in anticipation of an oncoming pain spell. In May 2012, she was diagnosed with trigeminal neuralgia, a chronic pain condition that affects the trigeminal nerve in the face. Symptoms include severe facial pain that Anderson describes as an electrical shock to the face.

“Having trigeminal neuralgia is like putting an electrical wire to your face and setting it off. It debilitates you,” the 64-year-old Collins, Ga., resident says. “It limits your talking. You have to be careful how you sing and how you chew. You’d be lying in bed, brushing your teeth or eating and the pain would hit.”

Initially, her doctor put her on a medication called Tegretol, or carbamazepine. The medicine left Anderson in a fog and there were moments she could barely function. On top of that, she still experienced bouts of the painful sensation of her trigeminal neuralgia.

Her neurologist then suggested a facial injection at the spot of the pain, which in her case was the lower right side of her jaw, or the mandibular branch of the trigeminal nerve. The injection was supposed to control pain for six to 10 years. Unfortunately for Anderson, the pain returned just three years later.

“It started back real mild, but before long I was experiencing the debilitating pain again,” Anderson says. “I knew then I had to start searching for another option because the first procedure didn’t work and the Tegretol just messed me up. Knowing that the pain was coming back and knowing that I was going to have to go back on the medicine, even temporarily, that worried me as much as anything.”

Anderson’s neurologist offered two suggestions: brain surgery or radiation treatment through the CyberKnife at the Nancy N. and J.C. Lewis Cancer & Research Pavilion.

How CyberKnife works

The CyberKnife is a non-invasive way to deliver highly focused radiation treatment in a non-surgical environment, says John Mikell, M.D., radiation oncologist at the LCRP. It is primarily known for treating cancerous tumors, especially in the brain, lung, spine and prostate.

Related article: Lifelong law enforcement agent becomes first prostate cancer patient to be treated with the CyberKnife

However, it also can treat non-cancerous conditions, including trigeminal neuralgia, acoustic neuroma, pituitary adenomas and meningioma. CyberKnife has been used as a form of treatment for more than 90 non-cancerous patients at the LCRP.

“The best thing is that CyberKnife is non-surgical,” Dr. Mikell says. “It’s also convenient. Treatments can be in a single session or up to five times versus daily over several weeks with traditional radiation. The patient doesn’t feel anything. They are lying on the bed and listening to their favorite music.”

Dr. John Mikell
John Mikell, M.D., radiation oncologist at the LCRP

After doing some research, Anderson opted for CyberKnife treatment under the guidance of Dr. Mikell and the staff at the LCRP.

“To have brain surgery, I just thought that was too much and decided to try CyberKnife and see what happens,” Anderson says. “Choosing CyberKnife was absolutely the right decision.”

Anderson only required one CyberKnife treatment, which occurred in July 2017. She describes it as painless. She listened to “Oldie Goldies,” and the hardest part was staying awake. The session lasted less than an hour and she had no downtime. She even drove herself home to Collins, which is more than an hour away from Savannah.

“We have a hospital in Vidalia, Statesboro and Reidsville, but they have nothing like CyberKnife,” Anderson says. “It was absolutely nice to find CyberKnife treatment available in Savannah. It would be well worth the trip for anyone in the southeast to come to Savannah.”

These days, Anderson is pain free. There’s a numb feeling along her lower jaw; however, that’s nothing compared to the electric shocks she once felt from her trigeminal neuralgia.

Anderson accepts that the pain could return. If it does, she already knows she will choose CyberKnife treatment again.

“To me, there were no negatives about the experience whatsoever,” Anderson says. “I would recommend CyberKnife to anybody that has trigeminal neuralgia.

“And don’t let the word Knife fool you,” Anderson adds. “It’s just a machine. There is no incision and no recovery time.”

Dr. Mikell also encourages anyone interested in CyberKnife treatment to seek out information at the LCRP. You can learn more on our website or request a referral to speak to a CyberKnife physician.

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