FAQs – Useful answers - Helpful answers relating to our Gamma Knife Center

01. How do these therapeutic devices generate the “beams”?

Teletherapy uses high-energy photons for external irradiation. We currently differentiate between two ways of beam generation: Devices based on the radioactive decay of cobalt 60 - the process used in the Gamma Knife -, and devices which generate the radiation themselves by accelerating electrons in an electric field - the process used in linear accelerators.

02. Why do we have devices in the first place that use “radioactivity”?

Cobalt 60 is a synthetic radioactive isotope produced in nuclear reactors. It has a half-life of 5.27 years and produces two gamma quanta with energies of 1.17 and 1.33 MeV. These are used for medical applications as high-energy - monochromatic - photon radiation. Cobalt 60 radiation sources are high-energy and compact. Each of the 192 beam sources in a modern Gamma Knife is about the size of a pencil tip, with an egg cup large enough to hold all of them. This is the only way of building an irradiation device that simultaneously focuses 192 beams on a single point. All other radiosurgical procedures generate a single therapeutic beam which has to be concentrated on a target point from various directions in a complicated process. This makes it less accurate and results in higher radiation exposure. The Gamma Knife has the steepest dose gradient and the lowest radiation exposure of all radiosurgical procedures (cyber knife, linear accelerator, photon therapy).

03. Are cobalt-60 sources required and manufactured only for the Gamma Knife?

No! Cobalt-60 radiation sources are produced in large quantities and used mainly for the safe sterilization of medical devices. Manufacturers use cobalt-60 equipment and gamma radiation to sterilize all disposable medical devices such as syringes, cannulas, gloves, etc. Modern medicine around the globe would grind to a halt overnight without cobalt-60 sources. The cobalt-60 sources used in radiosurgical devices account for less than 1% of global demand.

04. Who produces the cobalt 60 sources for Krefeld and what happens to the sources at the end of their useful life?

The German Gamma Knife Centers obtain their cobalt 60 sources from the manufacturer ELEKTA through the Canadian company NORDION. At the end of their useful life, the sources are replaced by new ones and returned to Canada for recycling. Cobalt 60 sources are normally reactivated in the reactor. Where this is not possible, they are placed in final storage in Canada. The sources are produced in the Bruce B reactor in Ontario, Canada. The Bruce nuclear power plant is Canada’s largest electricity producer. Particularly in light of climate change, Canadians do not want to stop using the plant.

05. What is the difference to the cyber knife?

The cyberknife is a stereotactic radiotherapy device. It was developed by John Adler in Standford in the United States in 1987. He had worked previously in Sweden with Gamma Knife inventor Lars Leksell and wanted to build a machine that implements the Gamma Knife principle (converging many beams on a single point) to treat tumors in the body. The Gamma Knife can only be used to treat brain tumors and is not suitable for the rest of the body as it simply cannot fit into the device. John Adler had the idea of mounting a single radiation source (linear accelerator) on a robot. Unlike the Gamma Knife, which focuses the entire radiation simultaneously on a single point, the robot was designed to apply each individual beam in succession. This allows treatment of tumors in the spine, lungs, prostate, etc. as well. However, the linear accelerator is not as accurate as the Gamma Knife. What is more, a linear accelerator, which “dances around” the patient on a robot arm generates much higher scatter radiation which exposes the patient to much higher radiation. For that reason, U.S. centers normally have a Gamma Knife for pinpoint accuracy for treating brain tumors and also a cyber knife for the rest of the body. Only in Germany interested parties still see the cyber knife as a “further development” of the Gamma Knife. And, of course, a cyber knife that you can also use on the brain is far cheaper than buying two machines that sit next to each other. Particularly as you can use one of them - the Gamma Knife - only for the head. However, clinical and radiation protection constraints make this approach inviable.

06. What does the treatment cost?

The cost of radiosurgical treatment is calculated in the private medical sector according to the Doctors’ Fee Scale [GOÄ]. Private health insurance companies reimburse costs on this basis.

An integrated care contract (IC contract) exists between the Gamma Knife Center Krefeld and Hanover and the DAK (Deutsche Angestellten Krankenkasse) covering statutory health insurance in Germany. DAK policyholders are the first group of statutory insured policyholders in Germany to have access to necessary Gamma Knife radiosurgery without a complicated application process. The TK (Techniker Krankenkasse) also signed up to this contract, giving its policy holders access to necessary Gamma Knife radiosurgery. Selective agreements exist with the AOK Rheinland/Hamburg, the Schwenninger BKK, and the Actimonda Krankenkasse so that this benefit no longer has to be applied for in each individual case.

With other statutory health insurance companies there is unfortunately still no right to cost reimbursement in the outpatient sector. Radiosurgery has been applied successfully n Germany since 1994 and worldwide since the 1970s. Nonetheless, radiosurgery is still not one of the benefits covered by statutory health insurance. As a result, many patients still first have to apply to their health insurance company to have costs covered for outpatient radiosurgical treatment. Over the past few years, the cost has been approved for thousands of patients on a case-by-case basis.

We can help you with the application process for cost coverage. Following the consultation and indication of treatment we will send you a physician’s letter including a quotation. You then need to submit this document to your health insurance company. Once you have received written confirmation from your insurer, you should get in touch with us again to arrange a treatment date. Even if your application is unsuccessful, we would still encourage you to get in touch with us to discuss how to proceed.

You can, of course, pay for the treatment with the Gamma Knife yourself.

07. Is treatment also possible at a hospital?

In the case of medical necessity, you can also receive treatment at a hospital. Here we have access to beds in the neurosurgical department of the Helios Hospital Krefeld.

08. What are the most common side effects?

Side effects occur only rarely, depending largely on the treated clinical picture, the location of the diseased tissue, and the required radiation dose. For that reason, general statements are not possible. In the initial consultation the possible side effects are described in detail in each individual case.

09. How long do I have to wait for treatment?

The waiting time depends primarily on the treatment indication and the patient's request. As a rule, treatment is possible within 14 days, if necessary.

10. Who is responsible for my transfer?

The transfer should be made via the general practitioner or specialist. In the case of oncological diseases, a tumor board recommendation should be available. However, "self-referral" in the context of a second opinion is also possible; if necessary, talk to your health insurance company about this.

11. Parking

Free parking: Our patients can park free of charge on the premises of the MVZ Gamma Knife Krefeld and on the premises of the Klinikum Nordstadt (MVZ Gamma Knife Hannover) during radiation treatment.

Own parking Krefeld: Our location Krefeld has 10 parking spaces. These are marked accordingly.

Own parking spaces Hannover: We have rented parking spaces that are exclusively available to our patients. The parking spaces are located directly in front of our practice in House X on the grounds of the Klinikum Nordstadt and are marked accordingly.