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During brain cancer surgery, the surgeon will make an incision in the scalp and use a special type of saw to remove a piece of skull bone. When most or all of the tumor has been removed, the surgeon will close the incision in the scalp. Patients who cannot have brain cancer surgery may receive radiation or other treatments.

Brain Cancer Surgery: An Overview

Brain cancer surgery is the most common treatment for brain tumors. Surgery to open the skull is called a craniotomy, and this type of surgery is performed under general anesthesia. Before brain cancer surgery begins, the scalp will need to be shaved. The surgeon will then make an incision in the scalp and use a special type of saw to remove a piece of bone from the skull. After removing part or all of the tumor, the surgeon will cover the opening in the skull with that piece of bone or with a piece of metal or fabric. The surgeon will then close the incision in the scalp.
In some cases, brain cancer surgery is not possible. If the tumor is in the brain stem, for example, the surgeon may not be able to remove the tumor without damaging normal brain tissue. Patients who cannot have brain cancer surgery may receive radiation or other brain cancer treatment.

Brain Cancer Surgery: Recovery and Possible Side Effects

Possible side effects after brain cancer surgery include:
  • A headache and feeling uncomfortable for the first few days after surgery. However, medicine can usually control the pain. Patients should feel free to discuss options for pain relief with their doctor or nurse.
  • Feeling tired or weak. The length of time it takes to recover from an operation varies for each patient.
  • Cerebrospinal fluid or blood may build up in the brain. This swelling is called edema. The patient may receive steroids to help relieve swelling, and a second brain cancer surgery may be needed to drain the fluid. In order to drain the fluid, the surgeon may place a long, thin tube (shunt) in a ventricle of the brain that will be threaded under the skin to another part of the body (usually the abdomen). Excess fluid is then carried from the brain and drained away. In some cases, the fluid is drained into the heart instead.
  • Infection. If an infection occurs, the healthcare team will need to give the patient an antibiotic.
Brain cancer surgery may damage normal tissue, which can be a serious problem. Patients may have problems thinking, seeing, or speaking, and they may also have personality changes or seizures. Most of these problems lessen or disappear with time. However, damage to the brain can be permanent. Patients who have damage to their normal tissue may need physical therapy, speech therapy, or occupational therapy.
Written by/reviewed by:
Last reviewed by: Arthur Schoenstadt, MD
Last updated/reviewed:
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