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What's it like: To have a brain tumor removed

Jaclyn Cosgrove: It's not always recommended that a brain tumor be removed. Your doctor might recommend you have a brain tumor removed if it's affecting your central nervous system.
by Jaclyn Cosgrove Modified: November 10, 2013 at 10:00 pm •  Published: November 10, 2013

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.

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by Jaclyn Cosgrove
Medical and Health Reporter
Jaclyn Cosgrove writes about health, public policy and medicine in Oklahoma, among other topics. She is an Oklahoma State University graduate. Jaclyn grew up in the southeast region of the state and enjoys writing about rural Oklahoma. She is...
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