Surgery is an effective method for treating many types of brain tumors. Whether you already have your procedure scheduled or are still learning about your available treatment options, it can be helpful to know more about brain surgery recovery time. Knowing what to expect can help you plan your recovery, as well as eliminate some of the stress associated with undergoing any surgical procedure.
The following information is not intended to be an exhaustive list of brain tumor surgery recovery times but instead a discussion of the three common brain tumors treated with surgery: pituitary gland tumors, meningioma and acoustic neuromas. Though your recovery is going to be a very personal process, it can be helpful to have some general guidelines outlining what you can expect during your recovery time.
Pituitary Gland Tumors
The pituitary gland is a small gland about the size of a pea, located above and behind the back of your nose. Despite its small size, it plays a vital role and secretes a number of hormones that have important functions throughout the body. Sometimes, a pituitary gland tumor contains extra cells that secrete excess hormones, called a functioning tumor, while others may simply grow large and impinge on nearby structures.
Your doctor may recommend surgery for your pituitary gland tumor if it easily accessible and/or you are a younger patient and a good surgical candidate. There are two ways your surgeon may access your tumor, either using a craniotomy (removing a small piece of the skull) or by entering through the nasal cavity.
Whichever approach your surgeon uses, once he has gained access to your tumor he will remove all or part of it, disturbing as little of the neighboring structures as possible. If he performed a craniotomy, the section of bone is replaced, your incision site is closed and your recovery process will begin.
- If your surgeon uses a transnasal approach, your hospital stay will likely be 2-3 days following your procedure
- If your surgeon performs a craniotomy, your hospital stay may be a few days longer
- You can expect to recover at home for 4-6 weeks following a transnasal procedure before returning to normal activities and work
- Following a craniotomy, your at-home recovery will likely be on the longer end of that range at approximately six weeks
- Following any pituitary tumor surgery, you can expect to be scheduled for post-op visits every 3-6 months
A meningioma is a tumor that develops from the meninges, the delicate membranous covering of the brain. Your doctor may recommend surgery to remove as much of your tumor as possible, particularly if your meningioma is of a low grade and has not spread into other areas of the brain.
In order to access your meningioma, your surgeon must first perform a craniotomy and remove a small piece of skull. He may opt to remove all of your tumor or only a part, depending on the risk to damaging nearby structures. Once the resection is complete, the section of bone is replaced and secured using a plate or screws. At this point, you will begin your recovery in the hospital.
- Expect to spend 2-3 days recovering in the hospital, though your stay may be longer if you have any complicating health factors
- For the first week following surgery, you will be prescribed steroids to reduce inflammation in the brain and some patients also require anti-epilepsy medications
- You may be prescribed pain medication to help ensure you are comfortable during the first two weeks
- Some patients may be able to return to normal activity levels and work in 2-4 weeks; however, others may take more in the range of 6-12 weeks
- Your doctor may recommend radiation therapy following your surgery
An acoustic neuroma is a benign tumor that develops from the vestibulocochlear nerve, which is responsible for balance and hearing. This is why you have been experiencing the symptoms that lead to your brain tumor diagnosis.
Not all patients with acoustic neuroma will require surgery, but your doctor may have recommended this approach if you are a younger patient and/or if your tumor is large and cannot be treated with other methods alone.
As with the other brain tumor surgeries described above, this procedure also involves removing a small portion of the skull in a craniotomy in order to access your tumor. The surgeon will carefully remove as much of your tumor as possible, taking care in this very delicate area to avoid damaging any surrounding structures. The portion of the skull is replaced, incision closed and the healing process begins.
- You can expect a hospital stay of approximately three days
- It usually takes 6-12 weeks for your energy to return to normal levels; by this point, you can typically resume activities and return to work
- Some patients may experience lingering facial weakness or numbness and/or hearing loss; if they have not resolved by the one-year mark, you will likely consult an ENT specialist
Recovery Is a Continuing Process
No matter what form of brain tumor you have been diagnosed with, it is vitally important that you adhere to any follow-up schedule your doctor develops and stay on top of your health. Many forms of brain tumors have the potential to recur, so your doctor will recommend a monitoring schedule based on your individual needs.
Remember, surgery is not the final stage in the recovery process, and it’s up to you to do your part in attending any follow-up appointments. By following this schedule, you can ensure any future tumors are caught and treated as soon as possible.