Surgery is a common treatment for many types of brain tumors, and is often the first course of treatment. For some slow-growing tumors, it may be the only treatment needed. Neurosurgeons at the Malnati Brain Tumor Institute of the Lurie Cancer Center at Northwestern Memorial Hospital use the most advanced techniques and perform more brain tumor surgeries than any other team in Chicago.

Surgery may help to:

  • Fully remove the tumor, if possible
  • Relieve your symptoms
  • Remove a small piece of the tumor to determine what type of tumor you have
  • Place a small tube, called a shunt, in the area around your brain or spine

The type of surgery you may need depends upon:

  • The type of tumor
  • Size and location of the tumor
  • The amount pressure on vital areas of your brain that the tumor is causing
  • If the tumor can be fully removed

In brain surgery cases, your neurosurgeon will need to remove a small piece of your skull to access your brain tumor. This surgical procedure is called a craniotomy. The piece of skull is replaced at the end of the surgery. You may be asleep through most of the surgery, or you may need to be awake for part of the surgery, if the surgeon needs to check your brain function.

Brain tumors can be removed through surgery in several ways, such as:

  • The surgeon may cut your tumor out with a scalpel or special surgical scissors
  • If the tumor is very soft, the surgeon might use a vacuum device to remove it
  • A special tool can be used to liquefy the tumor, after which it can be vacuumed out
  • If a tumor is hard to reach with regular surgery, a laser may be used to kill cancer cells

Your neurosurgeon will try to remove your whole tumor if possible. If your surgical team can’t remove all of the tumor without harming your brain, they will take out as much of the tumor as possible. This is called debulking surgery. Reducing the size of a tumor through surgery can help lower the pressure on the brain or spine and relieve some of your symptoms.

Leading-edge surgical care

Northwestern Medicine is home to skilled neurosurgeons* trained in the latest techniques, including:

  • Intraoperative MRI (iMRI): Northwestern Medicine Central DuPage Hospital is the only hospital in Illinois to offer full-field intraoperative MRI, a state-of-the-art surgical technology that provides high-quality, more detailed imaging viewable during surgery. By integrating this technology with advanced surgical techniques, your neurosurgeon can conduct scans during surgery to more safely and precisely remove brain tumors, especially around sensitive areas of the brain. This ensures maximum possible tumor removal, and minimizes the removal of healthy tissue.
  • Gamma Knife® radiosurgery: Gamma Knife® radiosurgery is an advanced cancer treatment used in multidisciplinary care plans. Gamma knife® is offered downtown at the Lou and Jean Malnati Brain Tumor Institute at Northwestern Memorial Hospital and the Northwestern Medicine Cancer Care Center Warrenville. Gamma Knife® radiosurgery is particularly well suited to treat brain tumors in difficult locations with less damage to surrounding healthy tissues. Benign, malignant, recurrent or metastatic brain tumors can all benefit from the precision of this safer treatment option.
  • Endoscopic skull base surgery: Skull base surgery can be used to remove benign and cancerous tumors on the base of the brain or skull. This can be done using minimally invasive endoscopes to access these difficult-to-reach areas.