What Is Inoperable Brain Cancer?

It is difficult to operate on tumors that grow in the areas of the brain that handle essential motor functions.
Inoperable brain cancer occurs when a malignant growth cannot be safely removed through surgery.
Surgery can be an effective brain cancer treatment, particularly when combined with drug and radiation therapy.
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  • Written By: Gregory Hanson
  • Edited By: Susan Barwick
  • Last Modified Date: 18 October 2014
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Inoperable brain cancer occurs when a malignant growth forms in the brain in such a way that it cannot be safely removed through surgery. In some cases, this is a result of the particular location where the cancer forms. The degree to which the brain cancer has spread at the time of detection is also a crucial factor in determining whether or not surgical treatment is a viable medical option. Additionally, the overall health of the cancer patient can determine whether or not surgery is practical.

Surgery is one of the preferred treatments for dealing with many types of cancer. Especially when used in conjunction with drug and or radiation therapy, surgery can often greatly improve a patient’s prognosis. Tumors that occur in the brain are often more difficult to treat with surgery, simply because the brain’s functions are both delicate and critical.

Malignant tumors can form in many different regions of the brain and its supporting structures. Tumors that form in the peripheral areas of the brain, such as near the nerves that funnel sensory input into the brain, are more apt to be good candidates for surgical treatment. Tumors that grow in the areas of the brain responsible for essential motor functions or that are located deep within the structure of the brain are less viable candidates for surgery.


In some cases, even a tumor that spreads very slowly may be classified as malignant if it forms in a part of the brain that is especially sensitive or critical. Any type of tumor that is located in such a part of the brain is likely to be a form of inoperable brain cancer. Not all of these cancers are immediately life-threatening, however, despite being untreatable with surgery.

A second instance in which a tumor may be considered inoperable brain cancer depends on the degree to which the tumor has spread within the brain. A tumor with a clear edge is generally a much better candidate for surgery than a tumor that has spread tendrils of tissue widely throughout the brain. Such a tumor is a poor candidate for surgical removal both because surgery is not likely to remove all of the malignant tissue and because operating on such a diffuse mass of cells might require the excision of a great deal of brain tissue, with dangerous results.

Inoperable brain cancer can also be a result of poor overall patient health. A patient who is frail, has a compromised immune system, or is suffering from other ailments is less likely to survive the stress placed on the body by surgery. In such a case, a tumor may be considered a form of inoperable brain cancer even if it could be surgically treated in a healthier patient.


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