[This piece was written by Duncan Savage, MD, Radiation Oncologist at St. Peter’s Cancer Care Center.]
Trigeminal neuralgia is a chronic nerve disorder that causes episodes of intense, sporadic facial pain, which has been described as a stabbing, shock-like pain, most often felt near the eyes, lips, nose, scalp, forehead and jaw.
It is estimated that 1 in every 15,000 people suffer from trigeminal neuralgia. It is most commonly found in people over age 50, but cases have been found in children as young as three. Women are three times more likely than men to suffer from the disorder.
An episode typically lasts between a few seconds and a few minutes. However, the intensity of the pain is often mentally and physically debilitating. Episodes usually occur in clusters that can last for days, weeks, or months. The disorder may then disappear for months or years. Attacks tend to worsen over time, with fewer and shorter pain-free intervals.
Trigeminal neuralgia can be difficult to treat and, traditionally, patients were faced with surgery and/or medications. However, a noninvasive procedure utilizing Novalis Shaped Beam technology is available at St. Peter’s Hospital to treat trigeminal nerve symptoms in appropriate patients. The procedure is not universally effective, but many patients treated with radiation for this condition receive a significant benefit.
It is believed trigeminal neuralgia is caused by a blood vessel pressing on the trigeminal nerve in the head. The trigeminal nerve supplies sensations to all parts of the face. Pressure on the nerve as it exits the brainstem causes severe pain to all areas of the face where there are nerve endings.
Attacks can be brought on by the slightest vibration or contact with the cheek. Sometimes, a patient will experience a constant, aching pain in the days before an attack, which can be triggered by daily activities, such as:
• Washing the face
• Applying makeup
• Brushing teeth
• Being exposed to the wind
At St. Peter’s Hospital, Novalis Shaped Beam technology delivers a precise dose of radiation therapy to the trigeminal nerve as it exits the brainstem. By “damaging” the nerve with this controlled radiation, the treatment disrupts the sensation of pain.
St. Peter’s Cancer Care Center is the only facility in the greater Capital Region to offer this advanced radiation therapy for nonmalignant applications such as trigeminal nerve, as well as treatment for complex cancer cases. Call 518-525-6418 for more information.