Understanding What to Expect
Preparing for any medical procedure can be stressful on the mind and body. However, learning as much as you can about what to expect beforehand can help set your mind at ease. Whether you are still in the treatment planning stages or already have your procedure scheduled, it can be useful to know more about skull base tumor surgery. To assist you, the following information outlines two different surgical procedures, as well as what to expect before and after surgery.
What is a Skull Base Tumor?
“Skull base tumor” is a descriptive term used to classify a brain tumor based on location. Many different tumor types can develop within the base of the skull, which is the area on which the brain rests. These can include:
- Acoustic neuroma/vestibular schwannoma
- Metastatic brain cancer
Your doctor will develop a treatment plan based on what type of skull base tumor you have. Some tumors are benign and grow slowly, while others can be very aggressive and even spread to other areas of the body. This is why it is important to work with a specialist in northern NJ who can diagnose your skull base tumor and develop a treatment plan that fits your individual needs.
Skull Base Tumor Surgery
Generally speaking, there are two different surgical approaches used to treat skull base tumors: traditional surgery and minimally invasive surgery. The surgical method your doctor recommends will be based on the size and location of your tumor, as well as your personal health factors. While your doctor will be the best person to discuss what to expect during your specific treatment, it can be helpful to have a broad understanding of the procedures.
Traditional surgery takes place in a hospital while you are asleep and comfortable. The first step of the surgery is typically a craniotomy, which is the temporary removal of a small section of skull to provide the surgeon access to the tumor. The surgeon will remove as much of the tumor as possible, which may be limited if the tumor has grown into neighboring tissues or is in a particularly delicate area. The section of bone is replaced, the incision site is closed using sutures or staples and your recovery begins.
Minimally Invasive Surgery
Some patients with certain tumors, such as pituitary tumors, can be treated using minimally invasive skull base tumor surgery. Minimally invasive skull base tumor surgery also takes place in a hospital while you are asleep. Using specialized instruments and microscopic visualization, the surgeon creates a small incision, then navigates to the tumor site without the need for a craniotomy. The surgeon removes all or part of the tumor, then closes up the incision site with sutures.
Preparing for Skull Base Tumor Surgery
Your doctor will give you specific instructions about how to prepare for your skull base tumor surgery. However, it can be helpful to have a basic idea of what to expect.
- Because you will be asleep during the procedure, you will not be allowed to eat or drink for a period before surgery (usually stopping at midnight the night before).
- Your doctor may have you alter any prescriptions you are taking.
- You will be staying in the hospital at least a few days, so you will want to pack anything you may need.
- You may also need to arrange for childcare or board pets while you are in the hospital.
Recovering from Skull Base Tumor Surgery
Skull base tumor surgery recovery is a very personal process. Your experience will depend on the type of tumor you have, which surgical approach your surgeon uses and your overall health. That said, it still helps to know what to expect. Keep in mind that minimally invasive skull base tumor recovery time is typically shorter and milder than traditional surgery.
- You will spend about 3 days recovering in the hospital.
- After leaving the hospital, you will recover at home. You will be placed on activity restrictions during this time, which could last from 2-8 weeks.
- You may wish to arrange for help running errands and doing chores, with childcare and time off work during your recovery period.
- If you have sutures or staples, you will have an appointment with your doctor around 2 weeks after surgery to have them removed. You will have other follow-up visits to assess your symptom resolution and to monitor your recovery. Your doctor may order diagnostic imaging, as well. You may also begin to undergo physical therapy if needed.
- Some patients will need to undergo radiation therapy following surgery, as discussed below.
Gamma Knife Radiosurgery for Skull Base Tumors
Gamma Knife radiosurgery is an advanced form of radiation therapy that allows your doctor to treat just your skull base tumor, sparing healthy surrounding tissues. Your doctor may recommend Gamma Knife radiosurgery following skull base tumor surgery to eliminate any remaining tumor cells, helping prevent reoccurrence. Gamma Knife radiosurgery can also be used as an alternative to skull base tumor surgery in some cases and is available in northern NJ for:
- Patients who may not be good surgical candidates due to complicating health conditions
- Patients with tumors in inoperable or difficult areas
- Patients who simply prefer a minimally invasive approach
Continue the Learning Process
Knowing what to expect before, during and after your skull base tumor surgery can help you prepare both mentally and physically for your procedure. The information provided here is based on the experience of patients in general. It will be important for you to discuss your specific case with your personal doctor, who can give you an idea of what to expect regarding your skull base tumor surgery.