Brain Cancer Surgery: From Procedure to Cure

One of the most common treatments for brain cancer is surgery. The goal of surgery is usually to remove as much of the tumor as possible without damaging healthy brain tissue. Removing the tumor helps relieve your brain and may help relieve your symptoms.

Radiation therapy or chemotherapy is often combined with surgery to kill any cancer cells that may not have been removed by surgery.

Cancer can grow in many different parts of your brain. Surgery is usually only an option if the tumor is small, easily accessible, and has not spread from other parts of your body.

In this article, we break down everything you need to know about brain cancer surgery, including the potential risks, what to expect during the recovery process, and current success rates.

There are more than 130 different types of brain tumors today. The best treatment option will depend on the type and location of your tumor.

Surgery is one of the five standard treatments used to treat brain cancer as well as:

Surgery is often the first treatment for brain cancer. It is used to remove a tumor or slow its growth. In some cases, even removing part of the tumor can help improve your symptoms. Radiation therapy or chemotherapy is often given after surgery to destroy any remaining cancer cells.

Your doctor may recommend surgery if your tumor is small and easily accessible. It is often used to treat types of brain cancer that are expected to grow slowly, such as:

  • astrocytoma
  • ependymoma
  • craniopharyngioma
  • ganglioglioma
  • meningioma

Types of surgery to treat brain cancer

The most common types of surgeries used to treat brain cancer include:

  • Biopsy. A biopsy involves taking a small sample of tissue to be analyzed under a microscope. This helps doctors determine if a tumor is cancerous and what type of cancer it is.
  • Craniotomy. A craniotomy involves the surgical removal of part of your skull to allow surgeons to operate on your brain and remove the tumor.
  • Endonasal endoscopy. During an endonasal endoscopy, a surgeon accesses the brain through the nose with a thin tube called an endoscope.
  • MRI guided laser ablation. MRI-guided laser ablation is a minimally invasive surgery that involves making a small hole in your skull and inserting a fiber optic laser. The surgeons then use the heat from the laser to destroy the cancer cells.
  • Neuroendoscopy. A small part of your skull is removed to insert a thin tube called an endoscope. This is used to treat conditions like obstructive hydrocephalus, hamartomas and skull base tumors.


The surgical procedure used to remove a brain tumor depends on the type of tumor you have. But you will probably:

  • have a biopsy where the doctor takes a small sample of tissue from your tumor
  • have a presurgical evaluation where you meet with your treatment team a week or two before surgery
  • ask a doctor or nurse for specific instructions, such as when to stop eating or drinking before surgery
  • have the opportunity to ask any questions you may have about the procedure
  • need to take steroids a few days before surgery to reduce swelling in the brain

Each transaction involves certain risks. The risks of general surgery include:

Brain surgery carries additional risks because of the risk of damaging brain tissue or other structures in the head. Possible risks include:

One of the main concerns of brain cancer surgery is swelling of the brain. The swelling can put pressure on your brain, which can make your symptoms worse or cause long-term brain damage. Corticosteroids are often given to limit swelling.

Risk factors for developing surgical complications

According to the American Society of Anesthesiologists, risk factors for developing surgical complications include:

  • obesity
  • advanced age
  • smoking
  • Sleep Apnea
  • waking up during surgery

The timing of your recovery process depends on factors such as the type of surgery you are having, the extent of the procedure, and any side effects you experience.

After your procedure, you will be taken to the recovery unit or intensive care unit for monitoring. Once you are stable, you can expect to stay in the hospital for about a week. You will be given a urinary catheter for several days and you will have regular neurological check-ups.

After you get home, you will likely need to take time off from work and you may feel tired for up to 6 weeks. Some people recover within weeks, while others may need months or never fully recover.

You will likely have some swelling after the surgery. This swelling can cause temporary side effects like headaches, nausea, and poor balance.

While you are recovering, it is a good idea to:

  • exercise regularly, as recommended by your doctor, to maintain your health and lower your risk of blood clots
  • eat a balanced diet
  • slowly increase your activity level
  • rest well
  • avoiding alcohol and smoking
  • do not drive until your doctor tells you that you can
  • have someone check your injuries every day for the first two weeks
  • avoid direct heat on your head for a few weeks

You may need several types of follow-up care after brain surgery.

Physiotherapy, occupational therapy or speech therapy

You can benefit from physical, occupational, or speech therapy for weeks or months after your surgery.

  • Physical therapy helps you improve your balance, strength and ability to walk.
  • Occupational therapy helps you manage your side effects and carry out your daily activities.
  • Speech therapy helps you overcome language problems.

Doctors follow-up

You will need to follow up with your doctor after your surgery to make sure you don’t have cancer. Follow-ups for aggressive cancers are generally scheduled every 3 to 6 months for the first 5 years and then once a year. You may only need follow-up every 6 to 12 months for the first 5 years, then annually or every two years for less aggressive cancers.

At your follow-up appointments, your doctor will perform a neurological exam to monitor your symptoms and may order imaging tests such as an MRI or CT scan to check for any signs of your cancer coming back.


You will probably be given medication to take in the weeks after your surgery. You may need additional follow-up with your doctor if these medicines are not working or are causing side effects.

  • Phenytoin is often prescribed to reduce the risk of seizures.
  • Lactulose may be prescribed to prevent constipation.
  • You may be given the corticosteroid dexamethasone to reduce swelling in your brain.
  • Pain relievers may be prescribed, such as paracetamol, codeine phosphate, and diclofenac.

Surgery is an option for small or easily accessible tumors. Survival rates vary widely depending on the type of cancer and tend to decline with age.

Looking at predicted survival rates can help you understand what to expect, but there are many factors that can influence your individual survival rate. Your medical team can help you get an idea of ​​your specific chances of survival.

People who have had brain tumors surgically removed tend to have higher survival rates than people who have not had surgery. For example, glioblastoma accounts for approximately 52 percent primary brain tumors.

Here is an overview of the 5-year relative survival rate certain other types of brain cancer.

One of the most common treatments for brain cancer is surgery. It is often used in conjunction with radiation therapy or chemotherapy to destroy tumors or slow their development.

Surgery is most effective for treating small tumors in areas where they can be easily removed. Your doctor can help you decide if surgery is the right option for you. They can also give you an estimate of your chances of success and alert you to clinical trials for which you may be eligible.

About Michael Bill

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