Object: Despite the widespread use of Gamma Knife surgery (GKS) for trigeminal neuralgia (TN), controversy remains regarding the optimal treatment dose and target site. Among the published studies, only a few have focused on long-term outcomes (beyond 2 years) using 90 Gy, which is in the higher range of treatment doses used (70-90 Gy).
Methods: The authors followed up on 315 consecutive patients treated with the Leksell Gamma Knife unit using a 4-mm isocenter without blocks. The isocenter was placed on the trigeminal nerve with the 20% isodose line tangential to the pontine surface (18 Gy). At follow-up, 33 patients were deceased; 282 were mailed an extensive questionnaire regarding their outcomes, but 32 could not be reached. The authors report their analysis of the remaining 250 cases. The patients' mean age at the time of survey response and the mean duration of follow-up were 70.8 ± 13.1 years and 68.9 ± 41.8 months, respectively.
Results: One hundred eighty-five patients (85.6%) had decreased pain intensity after GKS. Modified Marseille Scale (MMS) pain classifications after GKS at follow-up were: Class I (pain free without medication[s]) in 104 (43.7%), Class II (pain free with medication[s]) in 66 (27.7%), Class III (> 90% decrease in pain intensity) in 23 (9.7%), Class IV (50%-90% decrease in pain intensity) in 20 (8.4%), Class V (< 50% decrease in pain intensity) in 11 (4.6%), and Class VI (pain becoming worse) in 14 (5.9%). Therefore, 170 patients (71.4%) were pain free (Classes I and II) and 213 (89.5%) had at least 50% pain relief. All patients had pain that was refractory to medical management prior to GKS, but only 111 (44.4%) were being treated with medication at follow-up (p < 0.0001). Eighty patients (32.9%) developed numbness after GKS, and 74.5% of patients with numbness had complete pain relief. Quality of life and patient satisfaction on a 10-point scale were reported at mean values (± SD) of 7.8 ± 3.1 and 7.7 ± 3.4, respectively. Most of the patients (87.7%) would recommend GKS to another patient. Patients with prior surgical treatments had increased latency to pain relief and were more likely to continue medicines (p < 0.05). Moreover, presence of altered facial sensations prior to radiosurgery was associated with higher pain intensity, longer pain episodes, more frequent pain attacks, worse MMS pain classification, and more medication use after GKS (p < 0.05). Conversely, increase in numbness intensity after GKS was associated with a decrease in pain intensity and pain length (p < 0.05).
Conclusions: Gamma Knife surgery using a maximum dose of 90 Gy to the trigeminal nerve provides satisfactory long-term pain control, reduces the use of medication, and improves quality of life. Physicians must be aware that higher doses may be associated with an increase in bothersome sensory complications. The benefits and risks of higher dose selection must be carefully discussed with patients, since facial numbness, even if bothersome, may be an acceptable trade-off for patients with severe pain.