As you work with your doctor and review the metastatic brain tumor treatment options available in the New Jersey area, you’ll likely have questions about what to expect during your recovery period. While your recovery will be a personal process, it can be helpful to understand what generally happens following each type of treatment. This can be useful whether you are still in the treatment planning stage or if you already have your procedure scheduled.
The Basics: Metastatic Brain Tumor Treatment
Generally speaking, there are three metastatic brain tumor treatment options available in NYC and NJ: surgical resection, stereotactic radiosurgery and whole brain radiation therapy. The following information will help give you an idea of what the recovery period is like for the majority of patients following each treatment option.
Metastatic Brain Tumor Treatment Recovery: Surgery
Surgery is the most invasive metastatic brain tumor treatment. As a result, it has the longest recovery time. Your doctor may recommend surgical resection if your tumor is particularly large or if it is at an easily accessible location. Surgery takes place in a hospital setting, and you will be asleep during the procedure.
The First Day
After your procedure, you will be in a special hospital room recovering from the anesthesia. Your doctor will monitor your vital signs, such as heart rate and blood pressure, and will clear you to be moved to your recovery room when you stabilize. During this period, you will receive medications to keep you comfortable.
The First Week
You can expect to spend several days recovering in the hospital before you are released to recover at home. You will gradually be able to increase activity, such as walking, during your stay. Some patients will spend up to a week in the hospital before returning home. This allows your doctor to monitor for complications and ensure you are absolutely ready before leaving 24-hour care in the hospital.
The First Month
When you return home, you will be on activity and work restrictions. These will be lifted gradually as your body heals. Most patients can expect to return to normal activities, including work, in 4 to 8 weeks, although this is highly variable and depends on your circumstances.
Approximately two weeks after your surgery, you will return to your doctor to have any sutures or staples removed. You may also be transitioned off of any narcotic pain medications around this point. You can expect continued follow-up visits with your doctor to monitor your recovery, assess any activity restrictions and undergo follow-up imaging.
Six Months Later
By this point, most patients are back to work and normal activity levels. You can expect to continue having follow-up visits with your doctor, who will work with you to develop an appropriate schedule.
Metastatic Brain Tumor Treatment Recovery: Stereotactic Radiosurgery (Gamma Knife Radiosurgery)
Gamma Knife radiosurgery is also a form of radiation therapy. Unlike whole brain radiation, it uses multiple highly focused beams of energy to target your tumor site. As a result, you can expect fewer unpleasant side effects following your procedure. Additionally, Gamma Knife radiosurgery delivers a single large dose, reducing the number of treatment sessions required. Many patients only require a single session.
The First Day
Unlike surgery, Gamma Knife radiosurgery is done in an outpatient setting, and you can return home within a few hours after the procedure. You can expect to feel more tired than usual for a day or two. You may also feel nauseated or have a headache. Your doctor can prescribe medications to keep you comfortable. You will want to spend your first day taking it easy and letting your body recover.
The First Week
Most patients are able to return to normal activities and work within a day or two following Gamma Knife radiosurgery. You may have a little irritation on your scalp where the headframe was secured, but this is temporary and usually resolves within a few days. If you were experiencing symptoms related to your tumor, you might see improvement during your first week, though this is individual and can take time.
Six Months Later
By this point, you have likely notice improvements in any symptoms you were experiencing. Your doctor will have you on a recall schedule for imaging and exams to monitor your recovery. Some patients have a delayed swelling of the brain around the six-month mark, which is usually easily managed with prescription medications.
Metastatic Brain Tumor Treatment Recovery: Whole Brain Radiation Therapy
Another metastatic brain tumor treatment option available in northern NJ is whole brain radiation therapy, which has long been the “gold standard” treatment. However, because it doses the entire brain, many patients experience unpleasant side effects caused by damage to normal healthy tissue.
The timeline for whole brain radiation therapy is not as straightforward as with other procedures because it will require many sessions over an extended period of time. Most patients can expect to undergo 10 to 15 sessions, five days a week for a total of two to three weeks. During this time, patients are typically tired and may experience nausea, headaches, hair loss and irritation at the treatment site.
When your round of treatment is complete, you can expect to have follow-up visits with your doctor to monitor your recovery and to perform imaging. Your doctor will develop a specific monitoring schedule based on your individual needs.
Your Individual Recovery
Your personal recovery timeline will depend on your individual condition and which metastatic brain tumor treatment your doctor recommends. Surgery requires a hospital stay and a lengthy period of activity restrictions, and whole brain radiation therapy takes many sessions over multiple weeks and can lead to many unpleasant side effects.
Gamma Knife radiosurgery, on the other hand, eliminates the need for a hospital stay and any surgical risks. It also reduces pain and healing time while causing fewer side effects. These are some of the reasons many doctors in northern NJ recommend Gamma Knife radiosurgery as the treatment of choice for patients with metastatic brain tumors.