What is a Stereotactic Frame?

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  • Written By: Rebecca Harkin
  • Edited By: Allegra J. Lingo
  • Last Modified Date: 02 October 2019
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A stereotactic frame is a three dimensional, surgical guidance system used to more precisely pinpoint specific body parts and stabilize the body during a procedure. Primarily used for biopsies and radiation treatments, stereotactic frames have also be used to remove tissue or tumors, and to stimulate, implant, or inject something in a part of the body which may be difficult to reach or locate. The stereotactic frame is particularly useful on the brain, where the tissue is fairly homogeneous and natural landmarks are almost completely non-existent.

Built specifically for different parts of the body, the stereotactic frame typically uses bones as anatomical landmarks upon which to orient the device. Once placed on the patient, pins lock the frame to the body. The frame is then secured to the operating table to keep the patient stable, and the area of interest and the frame are imaged using either computerized tomography, magnetic resonance imaging, or angiography. Images show the problem area in relation to the frame as well as other anatomical markers. It typically takes about three to twelve hours to determine precise frame coordinates which correspond to the problem area, and from which the surgeon will drill or make an incision for precise delivery of radiation, a biopsy, or some other form of therapy.


Consistent stabilization during a delicate surgical procedure or a procedure requiring repeated applications of a treatment at different times is also a function of a stereotactic frame. For procedures which require multiple applications, such as radiation, surgical frames can ensure the radiation is applied precisely to the same spot each time, and damage to the surrounding tissue is minimized. The undeviating treatment application is achieved by locking the stereotactic frame onto the patient in the exact same place each time, locking the frame onto the operating table to stabilize the patient during the procedure, and using the same predetermined coordinates to guide the procedure.

Some of the risks of using a stereotactic frame for surgery or radiation are incomplete removal of a tumor, worsening of a neurological problem, infection, or an adverse reaction to anesthesia. Prior to using a stereotactic frame for surgery or radiation on the brain, a patient will be treated with steroids to prevent brain swelling and anti-epileptic drugs to prevent seizures. Aftercare for surgery or radiation treatment involving a stereotactic frame is fairly minimal, ranging from a few hours in a recovery room to spending one night in the hospital.


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