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What Does Stereotactic Mean? October 23, 2014

Posted by mvarlan in Uncategorized.

A patient earlier this week mentioned that her surgeon recommended stereotactic surgery. I couldn’t be certain which treatment he was actually referring to. I thought this would be a good time to clarify some medical terminology.

The specialists at Barrow Neurological Institute offer stereotactic procedures for HH including biopsy, radiotherapy (Gamma Knife), and laser thermoablation. Because physicians often use acronyms, abbreviations, and medical jargon, patients are often confused about what treatment is actually being recommended.

Stereotactic surgery or stereotaxy is a minimally invasive form of surgical intervention that makes use of a 3-dimensional coordinate system to locate small targets inside the body and to perform on them some action such as ablation, biopsy, lesion, injection, stimulation, implantation, radiosurgery, etc. Basically, stereotactic refers to an approach to treatment rather than the type of treatment.  It requires special equipment and physicians with expertise in this area.

Often referred to as stereotactic radiosurgery, Gamma Knife (GK) treatment can be used to treat benign tumors (such as HH), malignant tumors, vascular abnormalities, and functional disorders such as trigeminal neuralgia. It manages these conditions noninvasively, allowing patients to go home the same day as treatment without the pain and risk of complications associated with traditional surgery.

Laser generated stereotactic thermoablation (LTA) allows surgeons to place a laser probe into the HH lesion to administer heat to that tissue. This is performed using intraoperative MRI imaging, which allows the medical team to visualize the administration of heat in real time. Although we often take a piece of tissue for biopsy during the LTA procedure, we don’t perform stereotactic surgery for the sole purpose of obtaining a biopsy.

In summary, if your surgeon refers to radiosurgery or radiotherapy he is describing radiation. If he talks about thermoablation he is referring to burning the lesion.

I hope this is helpful. We don’t mean to talk in code. Please any questions regarding this topic here.


Maggie Bobrowitz, RN, MBA
Neuroscience Program Coordinator
Barrow Hypothalamic Hamartoma Center at Phoenix Children’s Hospital
Barrow Hypothalamic Hamartoma Center at St. Joseph’s Hospital & Medical Center


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