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Brain Tumor Surgical Recovery

Why should you have your surgery with Dr. Cohen?

Dr. Cohen

  • 7,000+ specialized surgeries performed by your chosen surgeon
  • Prioritizes patient interest
  • More personalized care
  • Extensive experience = higher success rate and quicker recovery times

Major Health Centers

  • No control over choosing the surgeon caring for you
  • One-size-fits-all care
  • Less specialization

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Brain tumor surgery is a surgical procedure to remove a tumor or part of a tumor in or around the brain. Although brain tumor treatment without surgery is possible, in many cases surgery provides the best opportunity for positive outcomes, relieving symptoms, and improving the life span of the patient. It’s unlikely for a brain tumor to go away without surgery; rather, tumors will continue to grow and can cause worsening symptoms over time. So when facing brain tumor surgery, it’s helpful to not only understand the actual surgical procedure involved but also what to expect afterward.

The recovery period after brain tumor surgery can look different for each patient because it’s determined by type of brain tumor, your overall health, and the type of surgery. Immediately after surgery, patients are monitored closely in a hospital recovery unit. When discharged, they will need to take time to rest and recover at home. They will need to avoid strenuous activity and follow their doctors’ instructions regarding any medications or treatments. Follow-up treatments, such as radiation and chemotherapy, may be recommended, if the tumor is more aggressive. Plus, rehabilitation, such as physical therapy or speech therapy, may be needed to help regain any lost function or skills. Proper care and support during recovery improves outcomes after brain tumor surgery.

Postoperative Recovery Period

Your recovery plan will be focused on your specific needs after brain surgery. The length of the recovery period depends in part on the type of surgery. For example, more invasive surgical procedures, such as craniotomy, require longer recovery periods compared with less invasive treatments like radiation therapy.

In addition to recovery from the actual surgery, specialized neurorehabilitation, such as physical, speech, and occupational therapy, can help provide you with the best recovery after brain tumor surgery. Rehabilitation plays an important role in the recovery process not only by improving your quality of life but also by impacting how long you can live productively after brain tumor surgery. Physical and occupation therapists can help you to regain strength, mobility, and independence by practicing carrying out activities of daily living. You may find certain tasks like combing your hair or buttoning a shirt require more focus and effort after surgery. This specialized therapy allows you to practice skills you may need extra help with.

Tumor type and surgical procedure can influence recovery. Table 1 outlines the average recovery time for 3 common brain tumors: pituitary tumors, meningiomas, and acoustic neuromas.

Table 1: Average recovery time for common brain tumors.
Brain Tumor Type Recovery Time
Pituitary Tumor
  • Endoscopic approach (through the nose): Hospital stay is usually 2-3 days. Recovery at home can take 4-6 weeks. Great care is taken to allow the nasal sinuses to heal.
  • Craniotomy: Hospital stay is usually 5–6 days. Recovery at home can take up to 6 weeks. Postoperative visits may be frequent at first (2 weeks to check your incision) but are typically scheduled every 3–6 months until you have fully healed. 
  • Hospital stay is usually 2–3 days; can be longer depending on which areas of the brain are affected or tumor location.
  • During the first week following surgery, steroids will be prescribed to reduce swelling.
  • Medication may be prescribed for 1–2 weeks after surgery to prevent seizures.
  • Return to regular activity or work can occur as early as 2–4 weeks, but recovery may last up to 6–12 weeks depending on the type of surgery and work activity.
Acoustic Neuroma
  • Hospital stay is typically 3–5 days.
  • Return to regular activity can occur anywhere up to 6–12 weeks or more after surgery.

Risks and Side Effects Associated with Surgical Treatment

There are risks and side effects of brain tumor surgery, including infection, bleeding, and damage to surrounding healthy brain tissue. Additional risks depend on the location of your brain tumor and surrounding structures that are at risk. Side effects can be broken down into short term (those experienced immediately after surgery) and long term (those that continue after some time has passed since surgery):

Short Term

  • Difficulty speaking
  • Confusion
  • Dizziness
  • Brain swelling
  • Difficulty walking
  • Headaches

Long Term

  • Behavioral changes
  • Weakness in arms and legs
  • Visual changes
  • Memory loss
  • Difficulties with speech

Physical Rehabilitation After Brain Tumor Surgery

After surgery, you will be monitored closely to avoid complications and encourage the transition to life outside of the hospital. Physical and occupational therapists will help determine when you can safely go home. Ideally, you should be able to demonstrate that you can care for yourself or have someone available to help at home before leaving the hospital.

Rehabilitation is an important part of the recovery process after brain tumor surgery. Table 2 summarizes the different types of physical rehabilitation offered.

Table 2: Types of rehabilitation.
Type of Rehabilitation Why It Helps
Physical Therapy Helps strengthen and regain motor skills like getting up and down from bed, standing, and walking.

Occupational Therapy

Helps with performing activities of daily living like dressing, brushing teeth and hair, eating.
Speech Therapy

Helps retrain muscles involved in speaking and swallowing to function properly again.

Cognitive and Behavioral Rehabilitation After Brain Tumor Surgery

After brain tumor surgery, you may experience emotional or cognitive changes. Behavioral changes can create additional stress for you and your family. Cognitive rehabilitation can help improve memory, attention, and problem-solving skills, and counseling or psychotherapy will address emotional issues. Table 3 shows potential cognitive issues and behavioral symptoms that may occur after brain tumor surgery.

Table 3: Potential cognitive issues and behavioral symptoms after brain tumor surgery.
Type of Cognitive Problem What It Causes
Attention and Information Processing
  • More time needed to process and interpret information.
  • More likely to be distracted.
Executive Functioning Problems
  • Difficulty with planning tasks.
  • Difficulty with beginning a task.
  • Difficulty knowing when a task has been completed and another needs to be started, leading to repeating tasks.
Mood and Emotions
  • Changes how you perceive, experience, and respond to emotions.
  • Decreased mood: feeling sad, irritable, and lacking interest in activities you previously enjoyed.
  • Impulsive or reckless behavior.

The right team to guide your care will help make your recovery from brain tumor surgery as smooth as possible. A group of specialized medical professionals, including physical therapists, occupational therapists, and speech therapists, are a valuable part of the neurosurgical care team. Their efforts will help to ensure a safe transition from the inpatient hospital setting to outpatient rehabilitation or even better – home.

Key Takeaways

  • The recovery period after brain tumor surgery can look different for each patient because it’s determined by type of brain tumor, your overall health, and the type of surgery performed.
  • Immediately after surgery, you will be monitored closely in a hospital recovery unit. After discharge, you may be moved to a rehabilitation facility for additional care and support.
  • Brain tumor surgery has possible risks and short- and long-term side effects that may need to be treated during your recovery.
  • Physical, cognitive, and behavioral rehabilitation will help you to achieve the best possible outcomes after brain tumor surgery.