Glioblastoma (GBM)

What Is Glioblastoma (GBM)? 

Glioblastoma is a malignant, fast-growing brain cancer. It is also referred to as glioblastoma multiforme. Glioblastomas are one of a larger group of brain and spinal cancers called gliomas. Gliomas form in the glial cells, which are non-neuronal cells that support the functioning of the central and peripheral nervous systems. Glioblastomas can develop at any age but are most common in older men. About 14,000 new cases are reported every year. There is no known cure for glioblastoma, but certain medical treatments slow its development and diminish its symptoms. 

If you develop signs or symptoms of glioblastoma, seek medical attention immediately. The oncologists and other cancer specialists at Baptist Health are ready to help. 

What Are the Symptoms of Glioblastoma (GBM)?

Quick-growing tumors like glioblastoma increase pressure on the brain. This can result in a variety of symptoms, including: 

  • Regular and severe headaches
  • Alterations in personality
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Seizures
  • Inability to focus
  • Difficulties with speech
  • Blurred vision

More serious symptoms include internal bleeding, the destruction of brain tissue, and the blockage of cerebrospinal fluid circulation. 

What Causes Glioblastoma (GBM)?

The cause of most glioblastomas is unclear. About five percent are linked to certain hereditary conditions, including Turcot Syndrome, neurofibromatosis type 1, and Li-Fraumeni syndrome. The other 95 percent might result from:

  • Exposure to ionizing radiation
  • Exposure to certain chemicals and other carcinogens (cancer-causing agents)
  • Currently unidentified cell mutations

Research into causes continues. One possible clue is that glioblastoma cells contain more genetic abnormalities than many other gliomas. 

How Is Glioblastoma (GBM) Diagnosed?

Your physician will likely take the following steps to diagnose glioblastoma:

  • Neurological exam: Your doctor will document your symptoms and ask you questions about your family medical history. He or she may also run tests on your balance, vision, hearing, reflexes, and muscle coordination. Brain tumors can impact any or all of these bodily functions.
  • Medical imaging: Medical imaging can be used to locate the position, orientation, and size of a brain tumor. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is most commonly used; sometimes computed tomography (CT) or positron emission tomography (PET) scans are utilized instead. 
  • Biopsy: To confirm the presence of cancer, your physician will collect a tiny sample of any suspicious tissue he or she finds, called a biopsy. Brain tumor samples are typically collected by means of a needle before or during surgery. The biopsy will be sent to a specialized lab for analysis. The type and extent of genetic mutations present may suggest an effective means for controlling the tumor in treatment. 

How Is Glioblastoma (GBM) Treated?

Treatment options for glioblastomas include:

  • Surgery: A brain or neurosurgeon can remove some or most of the tumor surgically. Because tumors of this type penetrate healthy brain tissue, a cancerous remnant will almost certainly remain, leading to a later recurrence.
  • Chemotherapy: Anticancer drugs can be introduced to the brain either during surgery (as circular wafers) or afterwards (orally as pills). Temozolomide is a commonly used anticancer drug for glioblastomas. 
  • Radiation therapy: Radiation therapy utilizes high-energy X-rays or proton beams to destroy cancer cells. It is often used in conjunction with surgery and chemotherapy in the treatment of glioblastomas. 
  • Targeted drug therapy: Targeted drugs are designed to attack cancer cells at their weak points. Bevacizumab is a targeted-therapy drug that blocks glioblastoma cells from generating new blood vessels to feed the cancer.
  • Tumor treating fields (TTF) therapy: TTF utilizes an electric current to interfere with the cancer’s reproductive capabilities. It is frequently combined with radiation and chemotherapy.
  • Clinical trials: Clinical trials are experimental treatments for cancer that are undergoing testing for approval from the Food & Drug Administration. By participating in a clinical trial, you might benefit from an innovative new treatment that would be otherwise unavailable to you, but you also run the risk of encountering unknown and possibly serious side effects. 

Palliative care is another common form of treatment for glioblastomas. The goal of palliative care is pain and stress reduction. This type of treatment may be necessary because of the lack of a cure for glioblastomas. Though there are several means of shrinking or removing the tumor, they usually grow back. The five-survival rate for glioblastoma is about ten percent. 

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