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 cell. 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:
Tuberous sclerosisVon Hippel-Lindau diseaseLi-Fraumeni syndromeTurcots syndrome
History of radiation therapy
Occupational exposures in the synthetic rubber or petroleum-refining industriesExposure to vinyl chloride or pesticidesHistory of CT scans during childhood
Symptoms may vary depending on the location or size of the tumor. In general, symptoms may include: New onset headachesNew onset seizuresProgressive cognitive dysfunctionProblems with vision, language, motor function, or sensation may occurProgressive neurological deficits, including weakness or numbnessPersonality changesBehavioral changes, development of inappropriate behaviorsMemory 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: CT scanMRI scanFunctional MRI (fMRI)PET scan
Your brain activity may be measured. This can be done with: Magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS) scanElectroencephalogram (EEG)
Your bodily fluids and tissues may be tested. This can be done with: Biopsy—tissue samples are taken and examined under a microscope
Lumbar puncture—to evaluate the cerebrospinal fluid that surrounds the brain and spinal cord
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 tumorChemotherapy—to increase survival time and quality of lifeSteroids to suppress swellingAntiseizure medications to suppress seizuresPain 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 groupsPsychotherapy and psychiatryPain managementHospice care
There are no current guidelines to prevent GBM because the cause is unknown.
General information about adult primary central nervous system (CNS) tumors. National Cancer Institute website. Available at:
http://www.cancer.gov/types/brain/hp/adult-brain-treatment-pdq. Updated January 27, 2016. Accessed September 6, 2016.
Last reviewed May 2016 by Mohei Abouzied, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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