The treatment of brain cancer in the UK will take a big step forward after a London hospital took delivery of the country’s newest Gamma Knife® technology.

The National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery (NHNN) is the 6th centre in the country to host the equipment which will focus primarily on treating patients for brain metastases – tumours that develop in the brain from cancers elsewhere in the body.

Unlike traditional surgery, Gamma Knife procedures do not actually involve the use of a ‘knife’ or scalpel and the skull never has to be opened up. It works by targeting a single dose of radiation precisely on the tumour and this minimises damage to surrounding healthy tissue.

Although the Gamma Knife technology cannot cure cancerous tumours in the brain, it can often prolong life and improve the quality of life for patients. In those with dangerous but non-cancerous growths near blood vessels and glands, it can be a life-saver.

The effectiveness of Gamma Knife radiosurgery for brain metastases is accepted across the world and clinicians at the NHNN will be able to add to the evidence when the equipment becomes operational towards the end of 2012. All patients who come to NHNN with brain metastases will be enrolled in clinical studies.

Neil Kitchen, a consultant neurosurgeon at the NHNN, said: “Traditionally, most UK patients receive surgery or whole brain radiation therapy, which – while they can be effective therapies – are rather invasive and incur some risk of side effects.

“Radiosurgery has proven to be a gentle and effective option to standard treatments for brain metastases which can prolong and improve patients’ quality of life.”

During the Gamma Knife procedure, patients have their head secured in a frame. Scans are taken to establish the location of the tumour, before beams of gamma radiation are targeted at the site.

The surgeon is able to work over the growth without damaging the surrounding tissue. The procedure takes up to two hours, is painless and, in most cases, patients do not need a general anaesthetic. In many cases the patient can be treated as a day case so can go home on the day of their procedure.

Patients recover much faster because the operation does not involve open surgery.

As well as being used for tumours in the head and neck, the technique is also able to correct defects in blood vessels that can cause seizures and headaches. It can be used to treat different types of brain tumour and other serious intracranial conditions including epilepsy and trigeminal neuralgia.

Construction of the research facility in Queen Square – began in April 2012 and the centre opening is anticipated at the end of October. The first patient is expected to be treated in December.