Q&A with Dr Brindha Shivalingam
“The brain to me remains the fascinating frontier of human existence. Surgery on the brain requires ultimate focus, confidence and fine dexterity. These things make brain and skull base surgery highly challenging and that excites me.”
What does a neurosurgeon do?
Neurosurgeons operate in a very specialised field of medicine, performing surgery on the nervous system and operating on the spinal cord and brain.
What interests you specifically about brain and skull base surgery?
The brain to me remains the fascinating frontier of human existence. Surgery on the brain requires ultimate focus, confidence and fine dexterity. These things make brain and skull base surgery highly challenging and that excites me.
What types of operations do you perform in a typical month?
Craniotomy for brain tumours (gliomas, melanoma metastases), Craniotomy for skull base tumours like meningiomas, acoustic neuromas and nasal sinus cancers, Endoscopic resections of pituitary tumours and Craniotomy for the treatment of trigeminal neuralgia.
How do you stay up to date with the latest advances in surgery and research?
I read journals, attend national and international meetings and courses, and have regular meetings with local neurosurgeons and other surgeons like ENT (ear nose and throat) and melanoma surgeons.
Can you tell us about a recent surgery you performed?
A recent patient had a very large tumour involving most of the frontal lobe on the right. It was intimately related to areas that control movement and cognition but also close to major blood vessels and the optic nerve. The surgery was unique in that I achieved a complete resection though a very small incision on the right side of my patient’s head and utilised equipment in the forefront of technology – intraoperative MRI theatre called the Brain Suite.
What advice do you have for those considering neurosurgery as a career?
Certain personal traits are required to be a success in this field. You need a high level of intellect, hand dexterity and emotional balance and have a great stress response. It is also of utmost importance to have compassion for people and a great sense of empathy. If you have these attributes, it is an extremely rewarding and exciting specialty.
How many people does brain cancer affect each year in Australia?
Brain cancer is a rare cancer that affects roughly 1200 people a year, mainly adults in the 25-50 age group. It is unfortunately quite underfunded and so research is lagging behind compared to some other cancer streams. Thankfully recent advances in chemotherapy have improved survival figures but it remains a deadly disease. We need to raise awareness about cancer of the brain and fund more research to ultimately find a cure.