Glioblastoma: Symptoms, Causes and Treatment

Overview

Glioblastoma, also known as glioblastoma multiforme (GBM), is the most aggressive types of cancer that can occur in the brain or spinal cord. This malicious cancer forms from cells called astrocytes that support nerve cells

Its initial symptoms are nonspecific, including a single seizure, progressive headaches, personality changes, nausea, and symptoms similarto those of a stroke. But worsening of symptoms can lead to unconsciousness. Treatments may slow progression of the cancer and manage symptoms, but cure is almost impossible.

Glioblastoma tends to afflict older adults more than people of other age groups. However, it’s a rare disease affecting less than 200,000 people in the US population.

Causes

Like most primary brain tumors, scientists haven’t figured out the exact cause of glioblastoma. But the following factors may account for the increasing risk of a brain tumor.

Risk factors

  • Age

Some evidence has indicated an association between glioblastoma and age. It mostly occurs in adults between ages 45 and 65 years old. But an exception is that children and young adults are more commonly affected by certain types of GBM, such as ependymomas and pilocytic astrocytomas.

  • Exposure to radiation

Ionizing radiation is the only type of radiation confirmed to be the exact risk factor, particularly when it is projected to a person’s head and neck region.

  • Genetic factors

Inherited gene mutations account for a small percentage of glioblastomas, but more study is needed to confirm the weak link.

Symptoms

The symptoms of glioblastoma vary according to the tumor’s size, location and rate of growth.

Symptoms related to the increased brain pressure

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Severe headaches
  • Confusion or a decline in brain function

Symptoms related to the tumor location

  • Cognitive impairment, memory loss, and inability to concentrate
  • Vision problems
  • Speech difficulties
  • Weakness or numbness in the limbs
  • Difficulty with balance

Other symptoms

  • Personality changes and mood changes
  • Urinary incontinence
  • Seizures

Diagnosis

If a patient is suspected with glioblastoma, he or she will be given a number of tests and procedures.

  • A neurological exam

During a neurological exam, the patient will be checked with a series of neurologic functions, such as vision, hearing, balance, coordination and alertness, strength and reflexes, to identify the potential existence of glioblastoma.

  • Imaging tests

MRI, CT, PET scans allow doctors to detect the presence of a tumor, with the help of dye (a contrast agent) occasionally.

  • A surgical biopsy

In this procedure, a neurosurgeon collects a small sample of abnormal cells to test in a pathology laboratory. The cell death is the main clue to glioblastoma.

Treatment

Possible ways of treatment won’t permanently cure glioblastoma but will help extend the patients’ survival time. Common treatment includes:

  • Surgery

The first step to treat glioblastoma is to remove as much of the tumor as possible in a surgery. The doctor will remove a tumor completely if it is safe, but even partial removal will do good to the patient’s health.

  • Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy is given to the whole body to help shrink a tumor or kill off any cancer cells left behind after surgery.

  • Radiation therapy

Radiation may help control the growth of the tumor as an alternative to surgery. A Gamma Knife or linear accelerator (LINAC) are two common types of technology used in this therapy.

  • Drugs

Drugs such as steroids and anti-seizure medications are required to reduce the symptoms of glioblastoma. Bevacizumab (Avastin) is a specific drug that stops the formation of new blood vessels and kills the tumor cells.

Keywords: glioblastoma.

* The Content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.