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What Is Glioblastoma?

If you’ve been diagnosed with glioblastoma, there are treatments to help you live better and ease your symptoms.

Read on to learn more about brain cancer, so you can take action to get the best care.

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Where It Forms in the Brain

Glioblastoma is a type of astrocytoma, a cancer that forms from star-shaped cells in the brain called astrocytes. In adults, this cancer usually starts in the cerebrum, the largest part of your brain.

How Common Is It?

Almost 1 in 5 tumors that start in the brain are glioblastomas. Men are more likely to get them than women.  And chances go up with age.

How Serious Is It?

Glioblastoma tumors are usually highly malignant, or cancerous. These are grade 4 tumors, which means they can grow fast and spread quickly.

Glioblastoma tumors make their own blood supply, which helps them grow. It's easy for them to invade normal brain tissue.

Symptoms

Because glioblastomas grow quickly, pressure on the brain usually causes the first symptoms. Depending on where the tumor is, it can cause:

  • Persistent headaches
  • Seizures
  • Vomiting
  • Trouble thinking
  • Changes in mood or personality
  • Double or blurred vision
  • Trouble speaking

How Tumors Become Glioblastoma

There are two types:

  • Primary glioblastoma is the most common. It starts out as a grade 4 tumor and is very aggressive.
  • Secondary glioblastoma starts as a grade 2 or 3 tumor, which grow slower. Then it becomes grade 4. About 10% of glioblastomas are this type. They tend to happen when you're 45 or younger.

Diagnosing Glioblastoma

A neurologist, a doctor who specializes in diagnosing and treating brain disorders, will give you a complete exam. It may include an MRI or CT scan and other tests, depending on your symptoms.

Treatment

The goal of glioblastoma treatment is to slow and control tumor growth and improve your quality of life. There are three standard treatments:

  • Surgery is the first treatment. The surgeon tries to remove as much of the tumor as possible. In high-risk areas of the brain, the surgeon may not be able to remove all of a tumor.
  • Radiationis used to kill as many leftover tumor cells as possible after surgery. It can also slow the growth of tumors that can't be removed by surgery.
  • Chemotherapy may also be used. Temozolomide is the most common chemotherapy drug used for glioblastoma. Chemotherapy can cause short-term side effects, but it is much less toxic than it used to be.

A glioblastoma that comes back can be treated with another chemotherapy drug called carmustine (or BCNU). Small wafers containing the drug are placed in the brain where the surgeon removed the tumor.

  • Combined treatments are very common for anyone with glioblastoma.

At major cancer centers, you may also be able to get experimental treatments or oral chemotherapy, which is taken at home.

These treatments cannot cure glioblastoma, but they can put it into remission. In remission, your symptoms may let up or disappear for a time.

Glioblastomas often regrow. If yours does, it can be treated with surgery and a different form of radiation and chemotherapy.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by David T. Derrer, MD on May 10, 2014

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