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Neurosurgery for brain tumours

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.

Neurosurgery is surgery performed on the brain or spinal cord. It's carried out by a highly specialised professional called a neurosurgeron.

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.

Why might I need neurosurgery?

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.

After neurosurgery

Immediate effects

When you wake up after surgery, you will have a number of tubes coming in and out of your body to help:

  • drain fluids
  • give you water, nutrients and medicine
  • monitor your body.

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:

  • sickness and nausea
  • sore throat
  • headaches
  • momentary phases of feeling dizzy / confused
  • difficulty swallowing
  • tiredness
  • new symptoms, e.g. personality changes, poor balance / co-ordination, speech problems and epileptic seizures (fits).

Neurosurgery is a major operation - you will need to rest for a number of days.

Find out more about the side-effects of neurosurgery.

Follow-on treatment

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:

  • steroids- to reduce swelling and pressure on the brain
  • anti-epileptic medication - as a preventative measure against seizures ( 'fits') due to increased pressure in the head

How will this affect my work?

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.

Neurosurgical Outcomes Data

In planning for your surgery you may wish to know more about who you are being seen by or seek a second opinion, The Society of British Neurological Surgeons Neurosurgical National Audit Programme has information about neurosurgeons at each centre in the UK along with their neurosurgical outcomes data. You can also view information on the NHS website about consultants specialising in neurosurgery in England.

When looking at this information its important however to remember that statistics are not always able to allow for additional influencing factors such as the complexity of cases seen and the level of risk involved. Some surgeons may have lower survival rates as they are willing to take on more complex cases therefore it's important that these aspects are also taken into consideration.

Our neurosurgery factsheet explains what to expect when you have surgery and our Information and Support Team are also here to help answer any questions you might have.

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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Our free Brain Tumour Information Pack has been designed to help you feel confident when discussing treatment and care options with your medical team.

What happens before and after neurosurgery?

Stuart Smith, Neurosurgeon and Clinical Associate Professor at The University of Nottingham explains what patients can expect when they have neurosurgery, both before and after the operation.