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What type of surgery is available for brain tumors?

Surgery is the usual first treatment for most brain tumors. Before surgery begins, you may be given general anesthesia, and your scalp is shaved. You probably won't need your entire head shaved.

Surgery to open the skull is called a craniotomy. The surgeon makes an incision in your scalp and uses a special type of saw to remove a piece of bone from the skull.

You may be awake when the surgeon removes part or all of the brain tumor. The surgeon removes as much tumor as possible. You may be asked to move a leg, count, say the alphabet, or tell a story. Your ability to follow these commands helps the surgeon protect important parts of the brain.

After the tumor is removed, the surgeon covers the opening in the skull with the piece of bone or with a piece of metal or fabric. The surgeon then closes the incision in the scalp.

Sometimes surgery isn't possible. If the tumor is in the brain stem or certain other areas, the surgeon may not be able to remove the tumor without harming normal brain tissue. People who can't have surgery may receive radiation therapy or other treatment.

You may have a headache or be uncomfortable for the first few days after surgery. However, medicine can usually control pain. Before surgery, you should discuss the plan for pain relief with your health care team. After surgery, your team can adjust the plan if you need more relief.

You may also feel tired or weak. The time it takes to heal after surgery is different for everyone. You will probably spend a few days in the hospital.

Other, less common problems may occur after surgery for a brain tumor. The brain may swell or fluid may build up within the skull. The health care team will monitor you for signs of swelling or fluid buildup. You may receive steroids to help relieve swelling. A second surgery may be needed to drain the fluid. The surgeon may place a long, thin tube (shunt) in a ventricle of the brain. (For some people, the shunt is placed before performing surgery on the brain tumor.) The tube is threaded under the skin to another part of the body, usually the abdomen. Excess fluid is carried from the brain and drained into the abdomen. Sometimes the fluid is drained into the heart instead.

Infection is another problem that may develop after surgery. If this happens, the health care team will give you an antibiotic.

Brain surgery may harm normal tissue. Brain damage can be a serious problem. It can cause problems with thinking, seeing, or speaking. It can also cause personality changes or seizures. Most of these problems lessen or disappear with time. But sometimes damage to the brain is permanent. You may need physical therapy, speech therapy, or occupational therapy. See the Rehabilitation section.

You may want to ask your doctor these questions about surgery:

  • Do you suggest surgery for me?
  • How will I feel after the operation?
  • What will you do for me if I have pain?
  • How long will I be in the hospital?
  • Will I have any long-term effects? Will my hair grow back? Are there any side effects from using metal or fabric to replace the bone in the skull?
  • When can I get back to my normal activities?
  • What is my chance of a full recovery?
Return to Brain Tumor (Symptoms, Signs, Types, Causes, Survival Rates)

See what others are saying

Comment from: Softball, 55-64 Male (Patient) Published: May 26

I had brain surgery on May 1, 2017. I was diagnosed with esophageal cancer in November 0f 2016 stage 4. It spread to my brain and I had surgery immediately, the headaches and vomiting were too much to live with. So far things are good!

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Comment from: bestes52, 55-64 Female (Patient) Published: January 22

I had brain surgery in 2011, the tumors were meningioma. One was removed by surgery and the other was done by radio surgery. I still have a horrible and very painful place on my head from the one removed by cutting out, it forms these lumps that feel like boils, and it occurs quite often. About 7 months ago, I lost most of my sense of taste and smell. Coffee tastes like dirty water and almost everything I smell smells the same. I hope it returns. Other than all that I'm glad to be rid of the tumors because of seizures and headaches. I do still have memory loss and some headaches.

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Comment from: Paula, 55-64 Female (Patient) Published: March 04

I am going to have my eighth brain surgery this month. This will be my fifth surgery for brain tumors. One of the other surgeries was for a brain bleed caused when a bard filter was placed in my vena cava and it pierced the vena cava and caused extensive bleeding, I had 30 units of blood for this. The other two surgeries were the placement of a shunt after it was discovered I had fluid on the brain. From bard filter placement to shunt placement it was only three months and I am still suffering from these surgeries. I had an MRI in April of last year and I just had one in January and was told the brain tumor was growing again. I had gama knife surgery for this tumor 19 years ago.

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