Having your operation

It’s understandable to feel worried or frightened about having surgery for a primary brain tumour. Your surgeon will explain any benefits and risks of the operation so you have as much information as possible. Your specialist nurse is there to give you and your family or friends support.

A few days before surgery, you will have tests to check your general health. You may be given steroids to reduce any swelling caused by the tumour. You will be admitted to the hospital the day before or on the morning of your operation.

Your doctors and nurses will monitor you closely after surgery. They can help you cope with any side effects and with caring for your wound.

When you go home and how quickly you recover depends on the type of operation you had. Your healthcare team can help and will arrange any extra support you need. You will still be recovering after you go home. Remember to take things easy and follow your healthcare team’s advice. If you have any problems or symptoms, call your hospital straight away.

Your feelings

Only highly specialised surgeons perform brain surgery. It is done in specialist centres or hospitals. They use new technology that makes operations safer and easier to carry out.

Any operation to the brain is major surgery. So it’s understandable to feel worried and frightened about having it done. You may have questions about the risks of surgery and whether it will change how your brain works in some way. You may wonder how you will feel after the operation. Or, you may worry about how you will look and whether you will have scars. Your surgeon and specialist nurse will talk to you about the operation and the possible risks and benefits. If there is a risk of damage to the brain during surgery, they will explain how this may affect you.

The surgeon may need to shave some of your hair during the operation. Some people find the thought of waking up with part of their head shaved very upsetting. If you are worried about this, your nurse or surgeon can explain what to expect before the operation.

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.

What happens before surgery

You will have tests before surgery to make sure you are well enough to cope with it. These are usually done a few days before your operation at a pre-assessment clinic. They may include tests on your heart and lungs.

If you smoke, try to give up or cut down before your operation. This will help reduce your risk of problems, such as a chest infection. It will also help your wound to heal after the operation. Your GP can give you advice and support to help you stop smoking. You may find it helpful to read our information on giving up smoking.

If you are not already taking them, you may be given steroids. These drugs help to reduce swelling caused by the tumour. Always take steroids exactly as your doctor has prescribed them. You usually take them for a while before and after your operation.

You are usually admitted to hospital the day before or morning of your operation. The nurses will give you elastic stockings (TED stockings) to wear during and after surgery. These help to prevent blood clots in your legs.

You will see a doctor from the surgical team and a specialist nurse who will talk to you about the operation. You will also see the doctor who gives you the anaesthetic (the anaesthetist).

After your operation

When you wake up, you may be in the intensive care ward or high-dependency unit for about 24 hours. Or you may go back to the neurosurgical ward straight away.

The doctors and nurses will monitor you carefully. They will do neurological checks, such as testing your reflexes and seeing how your eyes react to light. They will also take your temperature and blood pressure.

Your face and eyes may be swollen and bruised. This swelling should go down within 48 hours and the bruising within a few days. Sometimes a swelling filled with fluid develops under the operation scar. This may take longer but will go down over time.

Drips and drains

You may have a drip (infusion) into a vein in your arm to keep you hydrated and replace fluids you may have lost. A nurse will remove it once you are drinking and eating properly.

There may be a tube coming from your wound to drain blood or fluid into a bottle. This is usually removed a day or two after the surgery.

Some people have a tube that goes up the nose and down into the stomach. This is called a nasogastric tube. It is used to remove fluid from the stomach to stop you being sick.

You may also have a tube called a catheter to drain urine from your bladder. It is usually taken out when you start to move about more.


You may have a headache when you wake up after the operation. The nurses will give you regular painkillers until it gets better. Headaches usually settle over a few days. Always tell your nurse or doctor if you have pain or if the pain starts to get worse.

Moving around

You will be encouraged to get out of bed as soon as you feel able. This is important to help prevent chest infections and blood clots. It also helps with your recovery. A physiotherapist or nurse will help you get moving if needed.

Your wound

The wound on your head may be covered with a dressing or bandage for the first few days. The nurses will check it regularly to make sure it is healing well. After about seven to ten days, they will remove your staples or stitches. This can be done at the hospital or at home by a district nurse. If dissolving stitches were used, these won’t need to be removed.

The surgery itself actually went really well. I had been very nervous about it, but you just have to trust the doctors don’t you.


Recovery and going home

When you go home and how quickly you recover depends on the type of operation you had. Your healthcare team may include physiotherapists, occupational therapists and speech and language therapists who will help with your recovery, if needed. They can also help you plan going home and arrange any further support you might need.

You will still be recovering when you leave hospital. Remember to take things slowly and follow the advice from your healthcare team. Contact the hospital straight away if you have any problems or new symptoms such as:

  • a fever (high temperature)
  • redness, swelling or leaking from your wound
  • feeling or being sick
  • feeling very drowsy
  • weakness in your arms or legs
  • problems with speech
  • a seizure.

You will be very tired for several weeks or longer. For a few people, this may last a year or more. Getting enough rest and eating healthily will help you recover. Try to balance rest with taking some gentle exercise, such as regular short walks. This will help give you more energy and you can build it up gradually.

Your surgeon and healthcare team will tell you what to expect and how you can help with your own recovery. It is a good idea to make an appointment to see your GP when you go home. They can give you advice and support, and make sure you are recovering well. You will come back to the hospital a few weeks after your operation for a check-up. We have more information on recovering after treatment.

It took a bit longer to recover and I was very tired but let’s face it, it’s a pretty major op. I took things easy and rested lots.


Back to Surgery explained

When is surgery used?

Surgery can be used to remove all or part of the tumour or to give chemotherapy into the brain.


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.