Glioblastoma multiforme (GBM) is the most common glioma—a type of brain cancer. This cancer starts in the glial cells, which are cells that help nerve cells work.
This condition can develop suddenly. It can also develop from a lower-grade, less cancerous brain tumor. Most cases are located in the cerebral hemisphere of the brain. The cancer can also begin in the spinal cord or brain stem.
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GBM originates from astrocytes, which are a type of glial cells. The factors that cause normal-functioning astrocytes to become cancerous is not well understood.
GBM is more common in people over 50 years old, especially those who are Caucasian, Hispanic, and Asian. Factors that increase your chance of developing GBM include:
- Having a low-grade brain tumor, which occasionally develops into a higher-grade tumor
- Having one of the following genetic disorders:
- History of radiation therapy
- Occupational exposures in the synthetic rubber or petroleum-refining industries
- Exposure to vinyl chloride or pesticides
- Having had CT scans during childhood
Symptoms may vary depending on the location or size of the tumor. In general, symptoms may include:
- New onset headaches
- New onset seizures
- Progressive cognitive dysfunction
- Problems with vision, language, motor function, or sensation may occur
- Progressive neurological deficits, including weakness or numbness
- Personality changes
- Behavioral changes, development of inappropriate behaviors
- Memory loss
You will be asked about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done.
Images and scans may be taken of your brain. This can be done with:
Your brain activity may be measured. This can be done with:
- Magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS) scan
- Electroencephalogram (EEG)
Your bodily fluids and tissues may be tested. This can be done with:
Surgery is often done to confirm diagnosis and relieve headache, but doctors cannot completely remove the cancer. Other types of treatment may include:
- Radiation therapy—to further decrease the size of the tumor
- Chemotherapy—to increase survival time and quality of life
- Steroids to suppress swelling
- Antiseizure medications to suppress seizures
- Pain relievers
Even with aggressive treatment, few patients survive more than 5 years after diagnosis. However, there is evidence that medical and surgical intervention can increase life expectancy and improve quality of life.
A multi-disciplinary approach is important for you and your family. This approach may involve:
- Support groups
- Psychotherapy and psychiatry
- Pain management
- Hospice care
There are no current guidelines to prevent GBM because the cause is unknown.
- Mohei Abouzied, MD
- Reviewed: 06/2016
- Updated: 05/28/2014
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