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Craniotomy for childhood brain tumours

A neurosurgeon may perform a craniotomy for a childhood brain tumour to remove as much of the tumour as is safely possible

On this page we’ll cover:

What is a craniotomy for childhood brain tumours?

A craniotomy is the most common type of surgery for children with a brain tumour. A neurosurgeon may perform a craniotomy for brain tumours in children to remove as much of the tumour as is safely possible.

Surgeons call the complete removal of a tumour a ‘total resection’. Or, removal of part of the tumour is called a ‘partial resection’ or ‘de-bulking’.

The aims of a craniotomy may be:
⦁ increasing the chances of a cure
⦁ slowing the tumour’s growth
⦁ improving symptoms e.g. to reduce pressure on vital nerves within the brain, such as the optic nerve
⦁ helping other treatments to work better, such as chemotherapy or radiotherapy

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What happens during a craniotomy for a childhood brain tumour?

⦁ A specialist doctor will give your child a general anaesthetic to fall asleep
⦁ Your child may have a small area of their head shaved and may receive a local anaesthetic to part of their scalp
⦁ A neurosurgeon will make an incision (cut) in your child’s scalp and remove a small part of their skull (‘bone flap’)
Your child will not experience any pain during this as they will be under anaesthetic
⦁ A surgeon will remove as much of the tumour as is safely possible
⦁ The surgeon will replace the bone flap and close the wound using stitches or metal clip
⦁Your child will likely receive steroids to help with any swelling

Jake is talking about what happens during a brain tumour operation

What happens during a craniotomy?

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

Why might a surgeon not operate on my child’s tumour?

Not all brain tumours can be operated on. Your child’s medical team may make the decision not to operate if they believe this will cause your child more harm than not operating. If this is the case, your child will be actively monitored. This is sometimes called ‘watch and wait’.

A surgeon may not recommend a craniotomy for your child if:

  • the tumour is in, or near, a sensitive area of the brain and operation is likely to cause damage to this area. E.g. the brain stem (which controls breathing), or the optic nerve (responsible for sight)
  • the tumour is low grade (slow growing, unlikely to spread) and causing relatively minor or controllable symptoms
  • the risk of a major operation to remove the tumour is more likely to cause harm to the brain than not doing anything.

Frequently Asked Questions

The side effects of a craniotomy on a childhood brain tumour will be different for every child and will depend on factors such as their tumour’s location. Speak to your child’s health team about the possible side effects for them.

You can also read our information on the side effects of neurosurgery for children.

A craniotomy typically takes 4 to 6 hours. However some factors such as your child’s age, current health, size of the tumour and its position in the skull might affect the operation time.

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.

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