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Kennedy Faced Brain Surgeon's Knife While Awake
Date:6/3/2008

It's standard practice, so areas that control critical functions aren't damaged, experts say

TUESDAY, June 3 (HealthDay News) -- Sen. Edward Kennedy certainly was heroic as he underwent surgery Monday for a malignant brain tumor while partially awake. But he was no more a superhero than other men and women who suffer from the same condition and are faced with the same type of procedure to remove their cancer.

Experts say this type of brain surgery, when the patient is conscious for at least part of the operation, is not uncommon.

"It's specialized for tumor surgeons, but it's highly warranted in this type of tumor and would be considered the standard of care," said Dr. John S. Yu, director of surgical neuro-oncology at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.

"When the tumor is very close to very critical brain areas, such as language or movement, a lot of surgeons will choose to do this procedure aware," added Dr. Walter Jean, associate professor of neurosurgery at Georgetown University Hospital, in Washington, D.C. "You have to have a big enough center that the surgeon is comfortable with this. Certain centers do it more than others."

And incredibly strange as it may seem, keeping patients awake -- or at least partially awake for part of the procedure -- is critical, so crucial brain functions aren't destroyed.

Equally strange, the actual brain does not have the ability to feel.

"The brain itself is not sensitive to touch," said Dr. Eugene S. Flamm, professor and chairman of the department of neurosurgery at Montefiore Medical Center and Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City. "It controls all our sensation. You can manipulate the brain and do what you have to do in the brain without the patient being aware of it."

But the patient isn't awake throughout the whole surgical procedure and certainly not while the scalp and skull are being opened or
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