CyberKnife FAQ

CyberKnife FAQ

These frequently asked questions help explain CyberKnife® advanced radiation treatment technology and what you can expect if you undergo treatment at El Camino Hospital.

At El Camino Hospital’s Center for Advanced Radiotherapy and CyberKnife Radiosurgery, we’re committed to treating you with the same care and compassion as we would give our own family members.

What is the CyberKnife System?

The CyberKnife Robotic Radiosurgery System is a noninvasive alternative to surgery for treating both cancerous and noncancerous tumors. The treatment delivers beams of high-dose radiation to tumors with extreme accuracy.

Though its name may suggest scalpels and traditional surgery, the CyberKnife treatment involves no cutting. In fact, CyberKnife is the world’s first and only robotic radiosurgery system designed to treat cancerous tumors throughout the body noninvasively. It provides a pain-free, nonsurgical option for people who have inoperable or surgically complex tumors, or who may be looking for an alternative to surgery.

What can CyberKnife treat?

CyberKnife treats cancerous and noncancerous tumors anywhere in the body. At El Camino Hospital’s Center for Advanced Radiotherapy and CyberKnife Radiosurgery, we can use this technology for:

How can I find out if CyberKnife treatment is right for me?

CyberKnife has been approved to treat cancerous tumors anywhere in the body. Our multidisciplinary team at El Camino Hospital Cancer Center reviews your case and weighs all treatment options. Your doctor will let you know if CyberKnife is the best choice for your particular condition.

How many patients have been treated with CyberKnife?

More than 100,000 people have been treated worldwide with CyberKnife. More than half of those people were treated with lesions or tumors outside the brain and head.

What are the benefits of CyberKnife treatment?

Benefits of receiving this treatment include:

  • No incision, pain or need for anesthesia.
  • No hospitalization and little or no recovery time.
  • Immediate return to daily activities.

Has the CyberKnife System been cleared by the FDA?

Yes, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) cleared the CyberKnife System to treat tumors in the head, neck and upper spine in 1999 and tumors anywhere in the body in 2001.

What side effects can I expect after a CyberKnife treatment?

Most people experience minimal to no short-term side effects and often recover quickly. Depending on the treatment site, some people may experience different side effects such as mild fatigue or nausea. Your doctor will inform you about all possible side effects before treatment.

How many times can I receive a CyberKnife treatment?

The frequency of treatments depends on the location and type of tumor. Most people can receive multiple treatments or can be re-treated with CyberKnife.

Are CyberKnife treatments covered by private insurance companies and Medicare?

Medicare covers the CyberKnife treatment, and more than 100 commercial, private payers reimburse CyberKnife services. Talk to your doctor and insurance company before moving forward with treatment.

After a CyberKnife treatment, when will my tumor or lesion disappear?

The effects of radiosurgery vary and occur gradually over time. The time frame can range from days, months or years depending on the medical condition targeted. Some tumors may disappear more slowly than others or may simply stop growing and present no further cell activity. After treatment, your doctor will probably ask you to get periodic imaging exams (CAT or MRI scans). Your doctor may order additional tests to monitor the effectiveness of the treatment.

How is a CyberKnife "radiosurgery" treatment different from a traditional radiation therapy treatment?

Traditional external beam radiation therapy typically delivers radiation to a very specific area of tissue in the body, resulting in the treatment of both the tumor and some surrounding healthy tissue. Damage to normal tissue may cause side effects following radiation treatment.

To minimize side effects, doctors were forced to rethink the way traditional radiation therapy was delivered. As a result, the overall radiation dose was reduced and the number of treatments was divided into 30 to 40 sessions, delivered over a period of weeks.

Radiosurgery devices, such as the CyberKnife Robotic Radiosurgery System, were designed to deliver radiation with extreme accuracy, targeting the tumor with minimal damage to surrounding healthy tissue. CyberKnife’s accuracy allows clinicians to deliver very high doses of radiation safely because the size of the radiation field is smaller and only includes the tumor and a small amount of surrounding tissue. This allows for less damage to surrounding healthy tissue and for people to complete treatment in one to five days versus weeks required for traditional radiation therapy.

Can I still receive CyberKnife treatment if I’m undergoing chemotherapy or radiation therapy?

The CyberKnife System can treat people who’ve either gone through chemotherapy, radiation or proton therapy, or are currently undergoing treatment. It’s important for you to provide your doctor with a complete medical history to allow your doctor to prescribe an appropriate treatment plan.

What’s the difference between a lesion and a tumor?

A lesion can refer to any abnormal area in the body, such as a tumor, blood clot, cyst, aneurysm or inflammatory mass. A tumor is an abnormal collection of cells that’s grown due to a change in the cells. Tumors can be either malignant (cancerous) or benign (not cancerous) and are a type of lesion.

What are the different treatment options for treating cancer or benign lesions?

The treatment options available vary according to the specific cancer and its location. In general, the treatments can be divided into the following categories:

  • Radiosurgery – Also known as stereotactic radiosurgery, this outpatient radiation treatment precisely destroys a tumor or lesion by delivering a very high dose of radiation to the tumor in one to five treatments. 
  • Radiation therapy – A form of outpatient radiation usually delivered five days a week over six to eight weeks. It’s less targeted than stereotactic radiosurgery, increasing the risk of possible damage to healthy tissue. 
  • Brachytherapy – A specialized form of radiation therapy that requires the surgical placement of small radioactive sources in and around a tumor, either temporarily or permanently. It’s used for many cancers, including prostate, breast, lung, head and neck cancers.
  • Surgery – Also called surgical resection, surgery is an invasive procedure that requires an incision to remove or cut the tumor out of the body. It can be performed as an inpatient or outpatient procedure, depending on the tumor location. Because of the invasiveness of some types of surgery, some people are unable to undergo this type of treatment.

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Make an appointment, get information or refer someone by calling the Cancer Center at 650-988-8338 or radiation oncology at 650-940-7280.