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What Is Brain Cancer Surgery?

By M. DePietro
Updated May 17, 2024
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Brain cancer surgery is a procedure to remove part or all of a cancerous mass in the brain. Along with radiation therapy, surgery is often done to treat both metastatic brain cancer and primary brain cancer. There are a few types of brain cancer surgery. The procedure recommended depends on the location of the malignancy, age of the patient, and type of brain tumor.

The goal of brain cancer surgery is to remove as much of a cancerous tumor as possible without damaging healthy brain tissue and leaving severe deficits. Even if the entire tumor cannot be taken out due to its location, a portion of it may be removed. This may reduce symptoms and improve a person’s quality of life. Radiation or chemotherapy may also be recommended to destroy the remaining brain tumor.

A few types of brain surgery procedures may be used, depending on the size of the tumor and where in the brain it is located. For instance, a craniotomy involves removing part of the skull bone to get to the brain. After the tumor is removed, the skull bone is replaced. Once the tumor is out, it will be sent to a lab and analyzed. This will confirm the type of brain cancer present.

Less-invasive techniques are used in some cases of brain surgery. Keyhole brain surgery involves making small cuts near the base of the skull, behind the ear. Tumors are removed through these small incisions. Although this type of brain cancer surgery is less invasive than a traditional craniotomy, it may only be useful with certain types of tumors.

Recovery from brain cancer surgery will depend on the type of surgical procedure performed. Less-invasive types of surgery will usually allow a quicker recovery time. Most patients who do not have complications will require a hospital stay of a few days to about a week. Pain medication will be given as needed. Although individual patient instructions may vary, patients can gradually increase their activity level as tolerated.

Although it can be lifesaving, complications can occur with brain cancer surgery. Brain swelling is a possibility, which can lead to seizures. Brain swelling can also cause temporary cognitive and motor skill deficits. In some cases, the deficits can become permanent. Infection and excessive bleeding in the brain or at the site of the incision are also possible complications of brain surgery.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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