Your questions answered

You’re bound to have questions: hopefully we can answer all of them and put your mind at ease and make the whole process as comfortable as possible for you.

If my tumour is benign, does that mean it’s not dangerous?

Even benign tumours cannot usually be left to grow indefinitely because the brain is encased inside the skull – there is literally nowhere for it to go if the tumour pushes it out of the way. When benign tumours reach a certain size, they usually need to be removed by surgery or shrunk by surgery, by radiotherapy and chemotherapy.

What are my treatment options?

This very much depends on what kind of tumour you have, and where it is in the brain. Peter Bullock will thoroughly discuss your treatment options with you, and they may include surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy.

How long does treatment take?

Surgery is not usually as bad as you expect. The average operation entails a few days in hospital and a few weeks to recover.

Radiation therapy and chemotherapy are only needed for certain brain tumour patients. Radiation is often given five days a week for six weeks and chemotherapy is often given at the same time, then continued until your MRI scans show the tumour has gone, which may be several months. You will normally be back at work after four to six weeks.

Are there any side effects?

Serious side effects from brain surgery are much less common than even 10 years ago. You may be in mild pain or discomfort following surgery, as with any form of surgery.

Side effects from drugs are more diverse. For instance, if you are prescribed steroids in order to reduce brain swelling before or after surgery, or during radiation treatment, you may experience increased appetite, ‘moon’ face, flushing of the skin or an increase in blood sugar.

Anticonvulsants are routinely prescribed to reduce the risk of fits.

Chemotherapy side effects include nausea, which can be treated with anti-nausea drugs, and hair loss.

Radiation therapy side effects include local skin reaction and transient hair loss.

Your surgeon, neurologist and other doctors will discuss anything specific to your condition or treatment with you. Great efforts will be made to find a balance of medication that suits your needs.

Will my quality of life change?

In the vast majority of cases, your quality of life will improve and your symptoms such as vision problems, loss of balance and headaches will disappear or be lessened – this, after all, is the purpose of your surgery.

Will I function differently?

Hopefully not but all surgery carries risk, especially in very deep-seated tumours that run close to the organs of sight and smell. Loss of smell has been reported in brain surgery patients – see case study on Karl.

Will there be any change in my personality, appetite or memory?

This is unlikely, but it depends on the size and location of your tumour, which Peter Bullock will discuss with you. If you take steroids as part of your treatment, as outlined above, these may affect your appetite and cause weight gain.

Will I be able to drive?

If you have a malignant brain tumour, the law in England and Wales does not permit you to drive for several years. Only once a tumour has been removed and several post-operative scans are clear, will you be able to drive again. If you have a benign brain tumour that has been removed you are often permitted to drive after one year. Patients undergoing pituitary surgery can usually resume driving with weeks of the operation.