Surgery is often the best choice for treating brain tumors or spinal tumors. The main reason to operate is to cure your child. When possible, we do this by removing the whole tumor.
Depending on where the tumor is located in the brain or spinal cord, your child's neurosurgeon may be able to take out only part of it. Even so, taking out part of a tumor can reduce your child’s symptoms.
Sometimes we do surgery to find out what kind of tumor is in your child’s brain or spinal cord. Once we know the type of tumor, we can plan other treatments, such as chemotherapy and radiation.
Our neurosurgeons also perform biopsies. This is a procedure that lets them take a small sample of brain tissue or tumor. The sample is then examined by a doctor (pathologist) under a microscope.
Our surgical team uses the most current and well-researched procedures and equipment to operate on and monitor your child.
Surgery for Brain Tumors and Spinal Cord Tumors
Craniotomy is used to treat brain tumors. During a craniotomy, the neurosurgeon removes a part of your child's skull (cranium) in order to reach the brain tumor.
First the neurosurgeon cuts and removes a piece of the skull's bone. The neurosurgeon cuts the tough membrane called the dura mater that protects the brain. Then the neurosurgeon uses highly technical equipment to remove as much of the tumor as is safe.
Next the neurosurgeon closes up the dura mater and the skull. If possible, the neurosurgeon puts back the same piece of bone they removed from your child. If that's not possible, the neurosurgeon may use hardware such as micro plates, screws and wires to close your child's skull.
Neurosurgeons use laminectomy to remove spinal cord tumors.
During a laminectomy, your child's neurosurgeon removes parts of a few vertebrae, the bones in your child’s spine. This allows the neurosurgeon to reach the spinal cord or spinal nerve roots that need repair.
Neurosurgeons usually do this operation using a microscope and other highly technical equipment. Sometimes the neurosurgeon uses an endoscope, a wand-like tube with a light and camera. The endoscope allows the neurosurgeon to see and remove or operate on the tumor.
Despite its name, Gamma knife is not a cutting tool. It is a radiosurgery procedure used to treat abnormal spots (lesions) deep in the brain without opening up your child’s skull. The procedure works by delivering high doses of radiation to a carefully targeted area.
Laser ablation surgery
For some slow-growing (low-grade) tumors deep in the brain, laser ablation surgery may be an option. This minimally invasive procedure uses light to heat and destroy unwanted cells. Seattle Children’s is the only pediatric hospital in the Pacific Northwest, and one of only a handful of centers in the country, to offer laser ablation for brain tumors. Read more.
Embolization is a procedure that blocks off the veins and arteries feeding a tumor. Embolization before other types of surgery helps lessen the amount of blood your child may lose.
Some children with tumors either have or are at risk of having too much cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) back up in their brains (hydrocephalus).
If your child has this condition, the neurosurgeon may do surgery to place a small drainage tube into the area of the brain that has extra cerebrospinal fluid. For a few days after surgery, the tube drains extra fluid out of your child's brain until doctors find it is no longer necessary.
If your child needs a permanent shunt, neurosurgeons usually put one in during a separate surgery.