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Neurosurgery for brain tumours

Neurosurgery is one of the main, and often the first, treatment given after a brain tumour diagnosis.

It’s carried out by a highly specialised doctor called a neurosurgeon. Every hospital or surgeon may have slightly different practices, so what you experience may differ a little from what’s described below or from what other people experience.

What is neurosurgery?

Neurosurgery is surgery performed on the brain or spinal cord.

For brain tumours, neurosurgery can be performed to:

  • remove all or part of the tumour, known as a craniotomy
  • diagnose your tumour type, known as a biopsy
  • put chemotherapy drugs directly into the brain
  • put in a device, called a shunt, to reduce the build-up of the cerebrospinal fluid.

It’s important to know that neurosurgery is not always possible. If your brain tumour is too close to an important part of your brain, surgery may be too risky. 

In this case, another treatment option will be suggested by your healthcare team.

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What treatment do people with a similar diagnosis have first?

If you’ve just been diagnosed and are about to have treatment, you may want to see what other people’s first treatment was. Use the First Treatment insight in BRIAN, which you can personalise to make it relevant to you.

Before neurosurgery

This is the time when your healthcare team will explain your surgery. 

Use this time to ask as many questions as you want. There’s no such thing as a silly question. It’s better that you ask and have things explained, than worry about them.

Neurosurgical Outcomes Data

In planning for your surgery you may wish to know more about who you are being seen by or seek a second opinion. The NHS website has information about consultants specialising in neurosurgery in England, along with some data concerning their neurosurgical outcomes.

When looking at this information, it’s important to remember that statistics aren’t always able to show other factors that may affect the outcomes. For example, some surgeons may have lower survival rates as they’re willing to take on more complex cases.

Find out more

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During neurosurgery

Your treatment will be different depending on the reason you’re having neurosurgery. Find out more about what happens during the surgery you’re having:

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Helping you prepare for surgery

Would you like to receive our five-part email guide to your treatment?

After neurosurgery

Immediate effects

Some people wake up quickly after neurosurgery, while others may take a few hours or days.

Find out more about what to expect when you first wake up and temporary short-term side-effects of neurosurgery.

Going home after brain tumour surgery

Going home after brain tumour surgery can also be a nervous time. Find out more information about common symptoms you may continue to have, symptoms that require medical attention, and answers to frequently asked questions around medications and practical issues, such as washing your hair.

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Follow-on treatment

After a few days, you’re likely to have a brain scan to see how much, if any, of the tumour remains and how much swelling you have.

You may be given:

  • steroids to reduce swelling and pressure on the brain
  • anti-epileptic medication to try and prevent seizures due to increased pressure in the head.

You may then be given chemotherapy, radiotherapy or both, to get rid of any remaining tumour cells.

You’re likely to have regular scans in the weeks/months after surgery. Initially these will be done more frequently, then the time between them may become longer. Your healthcare team will let you know about the scans you need, as this will depend on your tumour type.

Tips from our community

“I’d recommend getting home recipe box orders delivered in the first few weeks after you come home following surgery. You’ll need time to recover and it can help to have one less thing to think about.”

“I had some balance problems after my surgery. Despite the occasional wobble, it has got so much better as time has gone on.”

“I found a neck pillow really helpful, as it meant I could lie on my side without pushing pressure on the scar.”

“I know it sounds silly, but when you come home from hospital, the last thing you want to do is clean your house! So I recommend having a big clean before you go for surgery and make sure you have some clean towels and bedding ready for when you come home.”

By joining one of our our Online Support Communities, you can get more tips about living with or beyond a brain tumour diagnosis from people who truly understand what you’re going through.

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If neurosurgery doesn’t work

Although treatment plans are carefully developed by healthcare professionals to be as effective as possible while having the fewest risks or side-effects, sometimes neurosurgery may not work. This can be worrying, but just because one treatment hasn’t worked, it doesn’t mean others won’t.

Find out more

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Frequently asked questions

You will have to take some time off work for treatment and for some time afterwards to recover. Side-effects, such as tiredness, nausea or cognitive difficulties, may mean you need a longer period of time off work.

Our employment resources provide help and information on how to approach your employer about your diagnosis and treatment effects, and how they can support you through this time.

Neurosurgery (adults) – (pdf) –

Find out more about Neurosurgery for adults in the full fact sheet – including longer-term effects and information about when you can return to activities, such as sport or flying.

Neurosurgery (adults) – Clear print (pdf) –

Find out more about Neurosurgery for adults in the full fact sheet – including longer-term effects and information about when you can return to activities, such as sport or flying. Clear print version, designed to RNIB standards.

If you have further questions, need to clarify any of the information on this page, or want to find out more about research and clinical trials, please contact our team:
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A member of our Support & Information Team provides support over the phone to somebody affected by a brain tumour diagnosis

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What happens before and after neurosurgery?

Stuart Smith, Neurosurgeon and Clinical Associate Professor at The University of Nottingham explains what patients can expect when they have neurosurgery, both before and after the operation.

Share your experiences and help create change

By taking part in our Improving Brain Tumour Care surveys and sharing your experiences, you can help us improve treatment and care for everyone affected by a brain tumour.