Neurosurgeons diagnose, assess and perform surgery to treat disorders of the nervous system. They operate on the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord) and the peripheral nervous system which can involve any area of the body.
Nature of the work
Neurosurgeons may work with patients of all ages from premature babies to elderly people. Some conditions are immediately life-threatening although chronic debilitating conditions are also treated.
Neurosurgery is a very challenging surgical specialty where techniques and technologies are constantly developing. Minimally-invasive procedures using surgical microscopes and endoscopes are increasingly used which achieve comparable or better results than open surgery. The benefits to the patient include less pain, faster recover time and minimal scarring.
Here are some examples of the main types of conditions that neurosurgeons treat:
Neurosurgeons also use highly advanced imaging procedures, for example to look at the function of the brain around a tumour. This helps the surgeon to examine the tumour’s boundaries and to see if it is actively dividing. Neurosurgeons work very closely with radiologists and use a range of diagnostic tools including CT and MRI scans and other techniques such as brain angiography.
The main sub-specialties of neurosurgery are:
Tumours of the brain, spine and skull
Trauma to the head and spinal cord
Degenerative spinal conditions and prolapsed discs
Cerebral (brain) aneurysms and strokes
Movement disorders such as Parkinson’s disease
Certain psychiatric disorders
Congenital conditions such as spina bifida
Conditions that affect cerebro-spinal fluid flow such as hydrocephalus
Pituitary tumours and neuroendocrine disorders
Craniotomy – surgical microscopes are used to help the surgeon make narrow openings that minimise damage to other brain tissue for the removal of tumours
Neuroendoscopy – using specialised endoscopes with high resolution video cameras to treat deep-seated tumours in the brain and skull base. The tumour can be removed with a minimally invasive approach
Stereotactic radiosurgery – this is a form of non-invasive treatment for tumours that focuses radiation on a part of the brain
Paediatric neurosurgery – includes facial anomalies, congenital spine defects and tumours
Neuro-oncology – the management of brain and spinal tumours
Functional neurosurgery – the management of a range of conditions including epilepsy, movement disorders and cerebral palsy
Neurovascular surgery – including complex aneurysms and abnormal or narrowed blood vessels
Traumatology – to treat head injury
Skull-base surgery – disorders of the skull-base and skull-base tumours
Spinal surgery – often for elderly patients