Why have a tumor removed?
A brain tumor is an abnormal growth of tissue found inside the skull. Tumors that originate in the brain are referred to as primary tumors. Noncancerous tumors are referred to as benign tumors, and cancerous tumors are known as malignant. There are several types of brain tumors, ranging in size, location and aggressiveness. The cause of most primary tumors remains unknown.
It's not always recommended that a brain tumor be removed. For example, your doctor might recommend you have a brain tumor removed if it's affecting your central nervous system. Those symptoms would include weakness of the arms or legs, speech difficulties, memory problems, or communication issues.
You also might have a brain tumor removed if it's growing. But if your tumor isn't growing or causing symptoms, your doctor might recommend leaving it alone. Sometimes the risk of surgery can be greater than the benefit of removing the tumor.
However, a person might ask their doctor to remove a brain tumor because the anxiety of the tumor consumes them. Sometimes the thought of the brain tumor can be overwhelming, regardless of whether a medical professional determines its risk is relatively low.
What happens during surgery?
Before surgery, you will undergo a series of tests. Generally on the day of your surgery, you will have an MRI, an imaging test that uses magnets and radio waves to create pictures of the body.
Before surgery, you'll be placed under general anesthesia and will fall asleep. In some cases, your brain tumor's location will be plotted on a computer. This allows a doctor to use medical technology to tell him or her where your tumor is and what is around it.
During surgery, your surgeon will cut through your skin and take out part of your skull. How your surgeon removes your tumor will depend on the location of the tumor and your surgeon's technique.
Once your tumor is removed, your surgeon and the medical team will clean up the area as much as they can. They likely will place your skull back in place, adding plates and screws to hold it in place. Generally, your skin is sewed and stapled shut. Your tumor likely will be sent to the hospital lab where it will be analyzed to determine what type of tumor it is.
Does it hurt?
Your brain itself doesn't feel pain. However, this doesn't mean you won't feel pain after surgery.
Your pain level will depend somewhat on where you get your surgery. If your tumor is in the back of your head, your surgeon might have to cut through muscle. That can be quite painful during your recovery.
However, if your tumor is somewhere on top of your head, it could be a less painful recovery process.
What are the risk factors?
If your tumor isn't or cannot be removed, there are a range of issues that could occur. You could suffer loss or worsening of brain function. You also could lose your ability to interact and function with others.
The risk factors of having a brain tumor removed also vary. You could suffer from a loss of blood supply, which could cause you to have a stroke or seizure.
Some of the risk with surgery will depend on where your tumor is. For example, surgery to remove a tumor around your optic nerve, which carries images of what you see from your eye to your brain, could result in vision loss.
It's important to talk with your doctor about the risks of surgery and what your options are. Also, you can always seek a second opinion if you want to learn more about what other doctors or hospitals offer for your specific diagnosis.
What's the recovery time?
You likely will spend the night at the hospital, usually in the intensive care unit. A day or so after surgery, you generally are allowed to get up and move around.
However, you won't be allowed to do anything strenuous for a few weeks. Once your staples are out, you will be able to ease back into normal activities.
Your recovery largely will be dictated by what type of tumor you have and what's usually done after that type of tumor is removed. For example, if your tumor was small and not cancerous, you might not need any further treatment. But if your tumor is cancerous, you might have to undergo radiation therapy.
It's important that you listen to your doctor and ask any questions you have. The more you understand your doctor's instructions, the better chance you have of a healthier recovery.
You might have to undergo physical therapy, although this isn't always the case with brain tumors. For example, if you had a large tumor that was causing you to have difficulty moving, you might have to have physical therapy. The same is true for speech therapy. Thus, if your tumor wasn't affecting your movement or speech, you might not end up requiring physical therapy.
What's the follow-up?
You probably will have an MRI after your surgery before you leave the hospital. This is generally the first of at least a few MRIs you will have post-surgery. If you have an aggressive tumor, you may have MRIs more frequently than someone who has a benign tumor.
After surgery, you will talk with your doctors about further treatment or testing. What happens next will depend on the type of tumor you have and how extensive your surgery was, among several other factors.
For example, if your surgeon couldn't remove your tumor entirely, you might undergo radiation or chemotherapy. In some cases, a tumor is so large that it is “debulked,” a procedure to reduce its size.
Source: Dr. Eric Friedman, a neurosurgeon at Mercy Hospital Oklahoma City; National Cancer Institute; National Institutes of Health; the Mayo Clinic; the National Brain Tumor Society; National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.