Cyberknife – The Machine with a Heart

It is common knowledge that with advancement in research and identification of diseases, there is a directly proportional increase of advanced treatment methods. Healthcare specialists are relying on robotics more frequently than before and one such monumental robotic treatment procedure is the Cyberknife.

So what is Cyberknife? It is a procedure that targets and cuts down cancer lesions without making any incisions, which is its strongest feature when compared to other treatment procedures. By avoiding the entire cutting open of a patient’s affected area, it helps in reducing and even almost eliminating the recovery period and the post-procedure pain and physiotherapy.

The patient is not given any sort of anesthesia and the CyberKnife, the world’s first and only fully robotic radiotherapy device, moves over without touching the patient. The procedure is entirely non-invasive and lasts from about 30 to 90 minutes.

The operation of this procedure requires highly skilled and experienced medical personnel, of which a prominent figure is Dr. Ratna Devi of the Apollo Proton Cancer Centre (APCC), Chennai. Simply put, this is a doctor who is without a doubt in love with the work she does.

In her own words, CyberKnife has the potential to be used extensively and heal almost all forms of cancer. She has worked with CyberKnife procedures for over 2 decades, with an outstanding record of 3000 successful radiotherapy surgeries. She has used it to treat both intracranial and extracranial tumors. The milli-meter precision of the procedure, which she compares with a well-guided missile, helps the adjacent normal tissue avoid the harmful effects of the radiation.

The device consists of a linear axial rotor machine, which is mounted onto a robotic arm that can track and capture real time images of the movement of the tumor and adjust accordingly. This helps in increasing the accuracy of the equipment. The usual number of sessions that patients undergo vary from 1 to 5.

As for the tumors that can be treated in the brain with CyberKnife, there are two types, benign tumors and malignant tumors.

Re-radiation is another upside which CyberKnife offers. In most conventional treatment methods, patients rarely even consider re-radiation after they have been irradiated.

There are a few potential complications that can occur in conventional treatments and surgeries for which CyberKnife brings solutions.

One such issue that the procedure solves is the Arteriovenous malformation (AVM). The AVM is an abnormal tangle of blood vessels connecting arteries and veins, which disrupts normal blood flow. In this tangle, there is a gushing of blood from the high pressure area to the low pressure area, which can cause difficulties in surgery and bring about stroke-like symptoms in the patients.

Another issue is trigeminal neuralgia caused by the irritation of the trigeminal nerve, which results in the patient experiencing excruciating pain. Non-invasive procedures like CyberKnife are adept at recognizing barriers between the arteries and the veins, resulting in safer radiotherapy surgeries.

While the treatment procedure does depend on the size and location of the tumor, extracranial tumors present in almost all parts of the body can be treated with CyberKnife technology, from the lungs and kidneys to the prostate and liver. For maximum efficiency, the size of the tumor that can be operated on is to be considered; anything less than 3-4 cm in the brain and less than 7 cm extracranially. Two or more tumors can also be targeted at the same time with this robotic technology.

Some of the success stories from amongst Dr. Ratna Devi’s impressive track record show the efficacy of CyberKnife.