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Craniotomy for Tumor Resection

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Aug 31, 2022.

What do I need to know about a craniotomy?

A craniotomy is surgery to remove part of your skull bone. The surgeon can then remove all or part of your brain tumor.

How do I prepare for a craniotomy?

  • Your surgeon will talk to you about how to prepare for surgery. You may need an MRI before your surgery. This will help your surgeon plan your surgery. Your surgeon may tell you not to eat or drink anything after midnight on the day of your surgery. You may need to stop taking aspirin or blood thinner medicine several days before surgery. The night before your surgery you may need to wash your hair with medicated shampoo. This will help prevent an infection. Your surgeon will tell you what medicines to take or not take on the day of your surgery.
  • On the day of surgery you may be given an antibiotic to help prevent a bacterial infection. Part of your hair may be cut or shaved. An MRI may be used during surgery to help your surgeon find your tumor. Do not enter the surgery room with anything metal. Metal can cause serious injury. Tell the healthcare provider if you have any metal in or on your body.
  • It may be difficult for you and your family to go through this surgery. You may want to bring someone to the hospital who can support you and your family during this time. You can also talk about any concerns with members of your care team.

What will happen during a craniotomy?

  • You may be given general anesthesia to keep you asleep and free from pain during surgery. You may instead be given IV sedation to make you feel calm and relaxed during surgery. You may also be given local anesthesia to numb the surgery area. With local anesthesia, you may still feel pressure or pushing during surgery, but you should not feel any pain. If you are given IV sedation or local anesthesia, you will be awake enough to follow directions. This will help your healthcare provider know how well your brain is working.
  • Your surgeon will make an incision in your head. He or she will use tools to remove part of your skull. He or she will also make an incision in the tissue that surrounds your brain (the dura). Your surgeon will remove as much of the tumor as possible. Chemotherapy may be injected into the tumor. This will help kill cancer cells that cannot be removed during surgery.
  • The surgeon may place a device in your brain tissue. The device can be used to remove blood or fluid, and decrease pressure in your skull. It can also monitor pressure inside of your skull. The surgeon will close the incision in your brain tissue with stitches. He or she will replace your skull bone and hold it in place with metal plates. The surgeon will close your head incision with stitches or staples. A bandage will be wrapped around your head.

What will happen after a craniotomy?

  • You may have swelling and bruising in your face or around your eyes. You may have a headache, feel dizzy, or get tired easily. You may also have problems with your memory, speech, or vision. These signs and symptoms should get better over time. Your recovery time may depend on how much of the tumor is removed, and where it is removed from in your brain. It may take several weeks for you to recover.
  • You will be monitored in an intensive care unit (ICU) after surgery. Healthcare providers will monitor your heart rate, blood pressure, and neuro signs. Neuro signs, or neuro checks, show healthcare providers your brain function. They will check how your pupils react to light. They may check your memory and how easily you wake up. Your hand grasp and balance may also be tested.
  • You may need an MRI or other tests. You will be connected to monitoring equipment and may have several drains or IVs. Medicines will be given to control your pain, prevent seizures, and decrease swelling in your brain. You may need to wait 24 hours before you can eat or drink.

What are the risks of a craniotomy?

You may get an infection or bleed more than expected. Nerves and blood vessels in your brain may be damaged during surgery. This may cause problems with your memory, speech, balance, or movement. You may develop a blood clot. A craniotomy may increase your risk for a stroke, seizure, or coma. These problems may become life-threatening.

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