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Neurosurgery for children

If your child is diagnosed with a brain tumour, one of the treatments they may need to have is an operation on their brain (neurosurgery).

On this page:
Why does my child need neurosurgery?
What happens during surgery?
Immediately after neurosurgery for your child
Follow-on treatment
If neurosurgery for your child doesn’t work

Why does my child need neurosurgery?

Neurosurgery for brain tumours in children may be used to:

What happens during surgery?

Our Jake animation can help you and your child understand what happens during neurosurgery.

Immediately after neurosurgery for your child

Medical staff will wake your child up in an intensive care unit (ICU) or a high dependency unit (HDU) to allow for closer monitoring. Visiting hours are usually very flexible, especially for young children, so you will be able to be with them.

If they have a dressing on their wound, this is likely to stay on for around 5 days after surgery. Health professionals usually remove stitches 5-14 days afterwards and these may be dissolvable. They may have some swelling and bruising on their face.

They will have a number of tubes coming in and out of their body. These are to help with:

  • draining fluids
  • monitoring their progress
  • giving your child water, nutrients and medicines.

Many factors will influence how your child feels after surgery. They may:

  • feel sick
  • feel tired – do not worry if your child sleeps more than normal
  • have a sore throat or difficulty swallowing, as a result of the tubes used during surgery
  • headaches, caused by swelling in the brain as a reaction to the surgery
  • momentary phases of feeling dizzy
  • new symptoms e.g. personality changes, speech or co-ordination problems, epileptic seizures (fits).

These effects usually disappear shortly after surgery. If you worry about any symptoms, speak to your child’s health team.

Your child will need to rest for a number of days afterwards, but medical staff will not keep them in bed any longer than is necessary. Hospitals like to get their patients up and get moving as soon as is safe.

When your child is out of hospital your child’s healthcare team will give advice about hair washing, going back to school and taking part in sports.

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Follow-on treatment

Immediately after surgery, the doctors may give your child the following medications:

  • steroids – to reduce swelling and, therefore, pressure on the brain
  • anti-epileptic drugs – to prevent the risk of seizures, which can be caused by increased pressure on the brain.

Your child is likely to have a brain scan soon after surgery to see if any, or how much, of the tumour remains, and to see how much swelling there is.

Health professionals may then give your child chemotherapy and/or radiotherapy, to get rid of any remaining tumour cells.

If neurosurgery doesn’t work

Although healthcare professionals will carefully plan your child’s treatment 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 about what happens when treatment doesn’t work.

More information

Neurosurgery for children factsheet – PDF

Find more information about neurosurgery for children in the full fact sheet – including when they can return to activities, such as sport or travel, and longer-term effects.

Neurosurgery for children – Clear print factsheet – PDF

Find more information about Neurosurgery for children in the full fact sheet – Clear print version,designed to RNIB guidelines – including when they can return to activities, such as sport or travel, and longer-term effects.

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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Neurosurgery for childhood brain tumours in the molecular era

Mr Mike Taylor, Professor of Neurosurgery, and Garron Family Chair in Childhood Cancer Research at The Hospital for Sick Children, Canada, talks about neurosurgery for childhood brain tumours in the molecular era.