Brain Cancer Surgery 101

Brain cancer surgery is among the most commonly used treatments for brain tumors. Brain surgery may be required even when the tumor is non cancerous because of the physical structure of the brain and the fact that it is encased within the skull – any type of tumor could place pressure on parts of the brain, impairing its proper functioning.

In addition to brain cancer surgery, there may also be a requirement for other treatments. Whether and how the surgery is to be performed depends upon several factors:

Brain Cancer Surgery1. Whether the cancer is primary or metastatic: Primary brain cancer is that which appears in the brain first or primarily.

Metastatic brain cancer is that which is secondary and has progressed to the brain from other cancers such as breast cancer, lung cancer, and so on.

In the case of primary tumors, surgery is usually the first necessity, and the earlier the tumor is detected and surgery performed, the better a person’s prognosis is likely to be.

However in metastatic cancer the prognosis may be poor to begin with and brain surgery may not be warranted, or may not be of much use.

2. Position and size of the tumor: Whether the brain tumor is operable or inoperable depends upon its position. If the tumor is located in the brain stem, it may not be possible to surgically remove the tumor since this would damage healthy surrounding brain tissue as well. If brain cancer surgery is not possible, other treatments may be used such as radiation, chemotherapy, and so on.

The position of the tumor will also decide whether the tumor is to be removed in its entirety or whether debulking to reduce the size of the tumor is a better option. Even if it is not possible to remove the tumor entirely, debulking can help to reduce the pressure inside the skull and alleviate symptoms of brain cancer.

Treatments in addition to surgery

Tumors will often invade brain tissue that adjoins it, rather like a tree that spreads its roots into the ground that surrounds it. So radiation therapy commonly follows surgical removal of the brain tumor or a debulking procedure. This helps to kill the remaining cancer cells that may have invaded healthy tissue and helps to prevent the cancer from returning. In some cases chemotherapy may also be used to treat brain tumors.

How brain cancer surgery is performed?

Usually a team of medical professionals including a neurosurgeon, an oncologist, a radiation oncologist as well as a neuro-oncologist, neurologist as well as social workers may be involved in the surgery and treatment that follows.

A craniotomy is the term used for brain surgery for which the person’s head is required to be shaved, after which an incision is made using a special saw.

Following brain cancer surgery, a person may feel some pain or discomfort for a few days following surgery and may feel tired and weak for a period. In cases cerebrospinal fluid may build up in the brain (edema) for which medications to help ease swelling may be prescribed. At times additional surgery may be required to drain this fluid. In the case of infection, antibiotics may be administered. In some cases there could be temporary or permanent damage to the brain following surgery.