A small study published online in the Journal of NeuroInterventional Surgery shows that a technique in which highly concentrated beams of radiation are used, known as Cyberknife, can relieve the stabbing pain of the facial nerve condition trigeminal neuralgia.
About five in every 100,000 individuals is thought to suffer from trigeminal neuralgia, which is characterized as a sharp, stabbing/burning sensation in the jaw or cheek. The name originates from the trigeminal nerve, the source of the pain.
Although the pain only lasts for a brief moment, episodes recur and with drug treatments often failing to offer long lasting relief, together with having a range of potential side effects, the only other alternative is surgery.
Even though surgery often proves successful, not all patients are suitable for anesthesia and some people do not want to undergo such an invasive procedure.
For their study, the researchers treated 17 patients with trigeminal neuralgia between the ages of 36 and 90, with Cyberknife radio surgery between 2007 and 2009. All patients had suffered between 1 and 11 years from the condition and failed to respond to common methods of treatment.
The treatment consisted of zapping a maximum radiation dose of 73.06 Gy into a 6mm length of the trigeminal nerve, just 2 to 3mm from the root, after which the patients were frequently monitored for an average period of just less than 12 months.
Whist 14 patients reported either a partial or complete relief of symptoms; complete data was available for 16 patients. The average time before the symptoms were relieved was slightly less than two months, with variations from three weeks to half a year. The researchers noted a relapse after the procedure in four patients, occurring between 3 and 18 months later.
None of the patients reported any major complications as a result of the procedure, with only two patients reporting any sensory side effects. The researchers conclude that radio surgery provides a viable alternative to more invasive approaches and should be further investigated.
Written by Petra Rattue