St. Louis CyberKnife is now using stereotactic radiosurgery to treat patients with a rare and debilitating nerve disorder called trigeminal neuralgia (TN).
While the Facial Pain Association estimates only one in 15,000 people suffer from TN, it can often be misdiagnosed as a dental problem due to the characteristics of the excruciating facial pain the disease causes. TN occurs when a blood vessel compresses the fifth cranial nerve, one of the largest in the head, making everyday activities like chewing, talking or swallowing a potential pain trigger.
Thankfully for St. Louis CyberKnife patient Mary Stanley, a family member was already familiar with TN and helped her identify the cause of her pain much sooner. Doctors initially prescribed Stanley medication, but it did little to ease her pain. She began to consider other treatment options after the unbearable pain led her to the emergency room.
"The pain is almost indescribable," Stanley said. "When the doctor told me I would be a good candidate for CyberKnife® treatment, I was immediately interested because I experienced side effects with pain medication, and I liked that I would not need a surgical procedure for this treatment."
Though primarily used to treat benign and malignant tumors throughout the body, St. Louis CyberKnife’s technology has the ability to directly target the source of pain without incision. During treatment, high doses of precisely focused radiation are delivered to the affected nerve.
"I was a little nervous because I had never had a procedure like CyberKnife before, but the staff at St. Louis CyberKnife is very knowledgeable and made me comfortable," Stanley said. "After experiencing TN pain that felt like it was so bad no one could understand it, I appreciated the St. Louis CyberKnife staff working to return me to my daily routines."
Stanley was treated in a single session completed within one hour, which is the typical standard CyberKnife treatment for TN patients. She said her pain subsided in a few weeks following treatment.
"TN is sometimes called the ‘suicide disease’ because of the intensity of pain that leads some patients to take their lives," said St. Louis CyberKnife medical director Dr. David Morris. "It is rewarding to see patients who have required hospitalization due to their pain undergo one CyberKnife treatment and subsequently come off medications and return to their former activities."
Though TN does not have a cure, stereotactic radiosurgery can reduce or eliminate pain in 65 to 85 percent of patients, according to clinical studies.
"I would definitely recommend CyberKnife to relieve TN pain," Stanley said. "It is such a relief to be able to eat and drink cold foods and beverages again. After my treatment, I even had an ice cream cone!"
In addition to treating trigeminal neuralgia, St. Louis CyberKnife treats malignant and benign tumors in the brain, lung, spine, lung, liver, pancreas, kidney and orbit of the eye. Brain and lung tumors comprise the majority of treatments at the center.
St. Louis CyberKnife is a service of SSM Cancer Care at St. Clare Health Center and is located at 1011 Bowles Ave. in Fenton, Mo. For more information, call 636-496-4660.