5 Things to Know about Glioblastoma Brain Tumors

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If you've heard about glioblastomas recently, you might be wondering about this aggressive type of brain cancer. And as we extend a healing hand to patients and families affected by glioblastomas, it's also important to raise awareness about this type of cancer.

Here are five important things to know about glioblastoma.

1. Glioblastoma is a highly malignant form of brain cancer that spreads quickly within the brain.

Glial cells form the brains glue-like supportive tissue, and the most abundant glial cells in the brain are called astrocytes, named for their star-like shape. Astrocytes tile the central nervous system to help regulate the brains transmission of electrical impulses. They are closely connected to the brains dense network of blood vessels, which contributes to the aggressiveness of cancers that affect them.

Tumors arising from astrocytes are called astrocytomas, and glioblastomas are the most aggressive type.

Glioblastomas are the most common malignant brain tumors found in adults over age 25, making up about two-thirds of astrocytomas.

And while glioblastomas are not common compared to other types of cancer, it is a commonly treated cancer at several AdventHealth facilities.

Patients are beginning to travel to our care teams for their glioblastoma treatment. While we offer some of the latest treatments for glioblastoma at several locations, this cancer is very aggressive and no treatment is curative at this point in time.

2. Glioblastomas are often diagnosed after a quick onset of symptoms.

Glioblastoma is typically a very fast growing tumor, so symptoms tend to come on quickly and intensely and correlate to the part of the brain that the glioblastoma is affecting.

That said, a very common initial symptom is a fast onset of headaches that differ from your typical tension or migraine headache. Other symptoms can occur alone or in combination, and include:

  • Balance issues
  • Weakness on one side of the body
  • Changes in memory or cognitive abilities
  • Difficulties with speech or vocation
  • Blurred vision
  • Seizures

There are some atypical symptoms patients experience, such as a blood clot that hemorrhages.

Patients generally present to the ER or their primary care physician with these symptoms, depending on how severe, and after diagnostic testing that includes an MRI, will get the formal diagnosis.

If glioblastoma is suspected, patients will then be referred to a neuro-oncologist for further evaluation and treatment recommendations.

3. Although this form of cancer cannot be cured, treatments may improve the prognosis.

The worldwide standard of care for glioblastoma treatment includes a three-phased protocol.

1. Maximal surgical resection (removal of the tumor)
2. 6-week course of chemotherapy with temozolomide
3. Radiation therapy

Another FDA-approved glioblastoma treatment option offered to qualifying patients is called Optune. This cap-like device creates low-intensity electric fields that could help slow or stop glioblastoma cancer cells from dividing, and may also cause some of them to die.

Every patient's course of treatment is always customized considering a host of factors, including age, medical history, current health status and how well each patient tolerates treatments, which often becomes harder with advanced age.

And even for patients that do tolerate the treatments well, glioblastoma is often challenging to treat because of the tumors:

  • Heterogeneity (tumor cells that express and metastasize differently)
  • Possible location in a region of the brain that's difficult to access, or too close to major blood vessels or speech or motor strip of the brain
  • Tendency to reoccur rapidly and aggressively

Many of these are challenges are being studied through clinical trials. Gaining a better understanding why and how glioblastoma forms and progresses in the brain could lead to a cure.

There are clinical trials examining specific molecular therapies for glioblastomas that could bring more targeted treatments in the future, but this is still under study as a first line of treatment.

4. The exact cause of glioblastomas is unknown.

Most glioblastomas are not inherited they usually occur sporadically in people with no family history of tumors.

Certain genetic syndromes make this cancer rare, but it's more likely to see some families having a strong predilection to cancer in general.

5. While there is no cure, there is still hope.

Doctors at AdventHealth are always pushing the boundaries of medicine, learning of and implementing some of the latest treatment options and surgical techniques to improve the care of patients with glioblastoma and other types of brain tumors.

And while it can be hard or trying work, our cancer care teams at AdventHealth always strive to extend and improve quality of life while providing comfort to patients and their families.

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