What is surgery and what is it used for?

Surgery is the main treatment for brain tumours. But some tumours cannot be removed because they are too difficult to reach, or the risk of damaging the brain is too high. In these situations, your surgeon will talk to you about having other treatment.

The operation you have depends on the size of the tumour and its position.

You can have surgery:

  • to remove a sample to confirm the type of tumour (a biopsy)
  • to remove all of the tumour
  • to remove as much of the tumour as safely possible
  • to relieve increased pressure in the brain due to a build-up of fluid (see our section on shunts)
  • to allow chemotherapy to be given directly into the brain (see our section on chemotherapy).

Having any kind of operation to the brain is major surgery. So it’s understandable to feel worried and frightened about having it done. Only highly specialised surgeons perform brain surgery and it’s done in specialist centres or hospitals. They use new technology and very specialised instruments that make operations safer and easier to carry out.

Your surgeon and specialist nurse will talk to you about the operation and the possible risks and benefits. If there is a possible risk of damage to the brain during surgery, your surgeon will carefully explain how this may affect you. The possible effects will depend on the area of the brain involved. If you have a benign tumour, you can usually take time to think it all through before you decide.

Your specialist nurse can give you and your family support. Make sure you have as much information as you need, talk about any concerns and ask any questions you have. The more you know what to expect, the easier it may be to cope and the less frightening it may seem.

Back to Surgery explained


A biopsy consists in removing and examining a small piece of tissue. It’s used to identify the tumour’s type.


The surgeon removes all or as much as possible of the brain tumour with an operation called a craniotomy.


A shunt is a thin tube that drains extra fluid away from the brain to relieve raised intracranial pressure.

What happens before surgery?

To prepare for your operation, you’ll have some tests and may be given steroids. If you smoke, try to give up or cut down.

Who might I meet?

A team of specialists will plan your surgery. This will include a surgeon who specialises in your type of cancer.

What happens after surgery?

You'll be monitored closely after your operation. You may have a drip (infusion) giving you fluids for a short while.