What is an Arteriovenous Malformation (AVM) and How Is It Treated?

by | Mar 15, 2024 | Best Cancer Treatment, Best CyberKnife Doctors, CyberKnife for Cancer Treatment

“It started with tingling and numbness on the left side of my face and ringing in my ears. Gradually the pain got so bad I actually saw stars and could not feel my legs. I hurt from my head to the bottom of my feet,” says Cynthia, a resident of Saint Lucia in the Caribbean. “I blamed it on stress, working too hard, getting older, even my shoes. I love shoes and gave away all my pretty shoes for flats.”

Cynthia then went from doctor’s appointment to doctor’s appointment to figure out what was wrong. 

Eventually, she had an MRI in South Florida revealing an arteriovenous malformation or AVM.

An AVM is an abnormal tangle or knot of blood vessels in the brain affecting about 1% of the population. Most people with AVMs are born with them. They go undiagnosed until symptoms develop typically in a person’s mid-30’s.  

Left untreated, AVMs can cause brain bleeds, brain damage, or strokes. 

“When I first got the results, it was scary because it’s like a balloon inside my brain that’s been growing for years and could burst any time,” Cynthia says.

AVMs have been traditionally treated with invasive surgeries or embolization procedures, which block blood flow to the AVM and close off the vessel. 

But there is another option – one using CyberKnife – a state-of-the-art form of non-invasive, targeted radiation. That is what one doctor recommended for Cynthia. He told her to go to the experts at the CyberKnife Center of Miami.

“The most effective way is to give radiation to the area most at risk. And it’s very localized and very precise with the CyberKnife,” says Dr. Mark Pomper, board-certified radiation oncologist and medical director of CyberKnife Miami. 

“Right away I went to CyberKnife Miami’s website, read all about how CyberKnife works, and read the patient success stories. I instinctively knew this was what I wanted to do.”

CyberKnife is the most precise form of high-dose radiation — delivering beams from hundreds of directions to the AVM, gradually shrinking it and reducing the long-term risks.

“The arteries constrict. They get narrower. And therefore, the chance of bleeding is much less because there is much less blood flow,” Dr. Pomper says.

In fact, according to a 20-patient study in 2020 using CyberKnife to treat AVMs, the majority of the patients saw complete obliteration of their AVMs.

“The treatment took about an hour, and I did not feel a thing. I almost fell asleep on the table while the CyberKnife did its work. When I got off the table, it was like nothing happened. It did not interrupt my life in any way,” Cynthia says.

“Her prognosis is excellent,” says CyberKnife Miami’s board-certified radiation oncologist, Dr. David Huang. “There’s an 80-percent or better chance she’ll have no problems and if she does, we can re-treat the AVM with CyberKnife again, but I doubt that’ll be necessary.”

Early CyberKnife Success for AVMs

Valorie knows exactly how scary an AVM’s ticking time bomb can be. She was one of the first patients to be treated with CyberKnife for an AVM – which was deemed inoperable once discovered.

Valorie’s AVM bled for the first time in 1969, when she said she felt extreme pain in the back of her neck, according to Accuray, the maker of CyberKnife. But her AVM was not diagnosed until it bled again in 1987. That is when an MRI finally revealed the problem.

After that, she lived in pain for eight years until she had another bleed in 1996. Only this time, there was a treatment for Valorie’s AVM: CyberKnife. “My experience with the CyberKnife was awesome,” says Valorie. 

Her first treatment shrunk the AVM by 75%. One additional treatment has allowed her to live a normal life – without fear.

The CyberKnife Advantage for AVM

CyberKnife can lower the long-term risk of an AVM bleed by shrinking the AVM with high-dose external radiation. The treatment is pain-free and done as an outpatient. Most people only require one treatment, but some may need additional treatments.

If you are interested in learning more about CyberKnife for AVM call CyberKnife Miami at 305-279-2900 or go to our website now and set up a consultation www.cyberknifemiami.com.