What to expect after surgery
You will be closely monitored for the first 12–24 hours after the operation. For the first day or two, you will be in the intensive care or high dependency unit.
You may stay in hospital for 3–10 days. How long you stay in hospital will depend on whether you have any problems or side effects following surgery.
Checks and observationsNurses will regularly check your breathing, blood pressure, pulse, temperature, pupil size, and arm and leg strength and function. You will also be asked questions to assess your level of consciousness. These are called neurological observations. They check how your brain and body are recovering from surgery.
Spinal cord checksIf you have had an operation on your spinal cord, the nurses will regularly check the movement and sensation in your arms and legs. You may need to lie flat in bed for 2–5 days to allow the wound to heal. A physiotherapist will help you learn how to roll over and how to get out of bed safely, so the wound is not damaged.
Pressure stockingsYou will need to wear pressure stockings on your legs to prevent blood clots from forming while you are recovering from surgery. Tell your doctor or nurse if you have pain or swelling in your legs or suddenly have difficulty breathing.
Headaches and nauseaYou may have a headache or nausea after the operation. Both can be treated with medicines.
RehabilitationThe surgery may cause a range of short-term or longer-term side effects. Before you can return home, you may require further treatment known as rehabilitation to help you regain your mobility and get back to your daily activities.
Bandages and bruisingThe wound will be covered with a dressing, which may vary from a small adhesive pad to bandaging that covers your head. Some or all of your head may have been shaved. After surgery to some parts of the head, your face and eyes may be swollen or bruised: this is normal. It is not usually painful and should ease in about a week.
Having a shuntA build‑up of cerebrospinal fluid in the brain is called hydrocephalus. It may be caused by the tumour or it can happen after surgery. To drain the extra fluid, you may have a temporary or permanent shunt (a long thin tube placed into your brain). For a temporary shunt (called an external ventricular drain), the tube drains fluid into a bag on the outside of the body. For a permanent shunt, the tube is inserted completely inside your body. It drains into your abdomen and the fluid is absorbed into your bloodstream.
For more on this, see our general section on Surgery.
A/Prof Lindy Jeffree, Neurosurgeon, Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital, QLD; Emma Daly, Neuro-oncology Clinical Nurse Consultant, Cabrini Health, VIC; A/Prof Andrew Davidson, Neurosurgeon, Victorian Gamma Knife Service, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre and Department of Neurosurgery, Royal Melbourne Hospital, VIC; Beth Doggett, Consumer; Kate Fernandez, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council SA; Melissa Harrison, Allied Health Manager and Senior Neurological Physiotherapist, Advance Rehab Centre, NSW; A/Prof Rosemary Harrup, Director, Cancer and Blood Services, Royal Hobart Hospital, TAS; A/Prof Eng-Siew Koh, Radiation Oncologist, Liverpool Cancer Therapy Centre, Liverpool Hospital and University of New South Wales, NSW; Andy Stokes, Consumer.
View the Cancer Council NSW editorial policy.