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Spotlight On: Trigeminal Neuralgia

Though primarily used to treat benign and malignant tumors, stereotactic radiosurgery can also treat additional medical conditions, including a rare nerve disorder, trigeminal neuralgia (TN).

Excruciating facial pain triggered by everyday activities such as chewing, talking or swallowing characterizes the debilitating condition. TN can often be mistaken for a dental problem, since the disorder usually causes sharp pain in the jaw. Diagnosis sometimes takes several years, as patients may undergo root canals or tooth extractions in an attempt to relieve their pain.

TN can occur when a blood vessel compresses the fifth cranial nerve, one of the largest nerves in the head. Many times, no cause can be found. As the pain intensifies, patients find themselves unable to predict what may trigger the next episode. Treatment typically involves powerful painkilling drugs or other antidepressant or anticonvulsive medication.

Using CyberKnife® technology, our center performs stereotactic radiosurgery, a noninvasive method of treating certain types of tumors and conditions like TN with high-dose radiation beams delivered in five or fewer procedures. To treat a patient with TN, the CyberKnife delivers very precise radiation beams to a targeted segment of the trigeminal nerve to interrupt pain-causing fibers. The pinpoint accuracy of the procedure spares healthy tissue and allows us to treat difficult-to-reach targets without surgery or sedation.

TN treatment is typically a one-time, outpatient procedure and is completed within an hour. TN does not have a cure, but pain can be reduced or eliminated in 85 to 90 percent of patients who are treated with stereotactic radiosurgery.