Our free Brain Tumour Information Pack has been designed to help you feel confident when discussing treatment and care options with your medical team.
Neurosurgery is one of the main treatment options following the diagnosis of a brain tumour. Learn more about neurosurgery and brain tumours, including biopsy procedures, tumour removal and brain surgery side-effects.
Every hospital or surgeon may have slightly different practices, so what you experience may differ slightly from what's described on this page and fact sheet.
Neurosurgery can have several purposes:
It is important to know that neurosurgery is not always possible. If your brain tumour is too close to an important part of the brain, surgery may be too risky. In this case, another treatment option will be suggested.
Neurosurgery is performed by a highly specialised doctor, known as a neurosurgeon.
Whenever possible, your neurosurgeon will try to remove all of your tumour, or as much as is safe to. (Not all tumours can be operated on, as they may be too close to a sensitive area of the brain, e.g. that controls breathing or sight.)
To remove your tumour, your neurosurgeon needs to make a large-ish hole in your skull, so they can see into your brain. This operation is called a craniotomy. It is the most common type of surgery for brain tumours.
A craniotomy is usually performed when you are asleep under general anaesthetic, but it can be performed when you are awake.
An awake craniotomy may be performed if the tumour is close to areas of the brain that control important functions. Waking you part way through the operation allows the neurosurgeon to check where these functions are in your brain by asking you to perform certain tasks during the operation, such as reading out loud. This enables them to avoid damage to these areas.
This can sound rather scary, but if it is thought to be the best option for you, your healthcare team will discuss it with you, explaining what is done to prevent you feeling any pain and to help you mentally prepare for it.
It’s important to note that the brain itself cannot feel pain, as it has no pain receptors.
Before your surgery, your neurosurgeon will discuss with you what to expect. Ask as many questions as you would like - there is no such thing as a 'silly' question.
You may like to ask about biobanking a frozen sample of your tumour, so you can be a candidate for clinical trials in the future and have any relevant genetic (biomarker) tests for your tumour. These tests, for some tumours only, can predict how well you might respond to certain treatments.
The length of time a craniotomy takes varies according to the part of the brain being operated on. It may take around 4-6 hours, but can be longer.
To gain an accurate diagnosis of your brain tumour, a small sample of tumour tissue needs to be taken. This is done by an operation known as a 'biopsy'.
Often this is done as part of a craniotomy, but sometimes if a craniotomy is not possible, a smaller operation may be performed to get a sample of the tumour for diagnosis.The tumour sample will be sent to the laboratory to be analysed and diagnosed by a neuropathologist.
A biopsy generally takes about 2-3 hours.
Sometimes during a craniotomy, you may have chemotherapy drugs inserted directly to the brain to get rid of any remaining tumour cells. This can be done via:
Headaches are a common symptom of brain tumours caused by a build-up of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF). This can happen if the tumour is blocking the flow of CSF.
To reduce this pressure, neurosurgeons can insert a tube, called a 'shunt', through your skull and into your brain to drain some of the excess fluid away. The fluid is drained into other parts of the body that can easily absorb it. This is not your stomach, so it will not affect your eating. The shunt may have to stay in place for some time.
When you wake up after surgery, you will have a number of tubes coming in and out of your body to help:
You may have swelling and bruising on your face, and you may have a dressing on your wound, but not necessarily. You may also feel some temporary worsening of the symptoms you had before the surgery - this is usually due to swelling of the brain following the surgery. You may be given steroids to help with this..
Other temporary, post-operative effects include:
Neurosurgery is a major operation - you will need to rest for a number of days.
After a few days, you are likely to have a brain scan to see how much, if any, of the tumour remains and how much swelling you have. You may then be given chemotherapy and/ or radiotherapy, to get rid of any remaining tumour cells. You may also be given:
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 (thinking) 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.
Find our more about adult brain tumour treatments, treatments for children and complementary therapies:
Information about different brain tumour treatments available for adults.
Information about different brain tumour treatments available for children.
Therapies used alongside conventional treatments to help manage the side-effects of having a brain tumour and its treatment
Page last reviewed: 06/2018
Next review due: 06/2021
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