Glioblastoma is a type of cancer that starts as a growth of cells in the brain or spinal cord. It grows quickly and can invade and destroy healthy tissue. Glioblastoma forms from cells called astrocytes that support nerve cells.
Glioblastoma can happen at any age. But it tends to occur more often in older adults and more often in men. Glioblastoma symptoms include headaches that keep getting worse, nausea and vomiting, blurred or double vision, and seizures.
There's no cure for glioblastoma, which is also known as glioblastoma multiforme. Treatments might slow cancer growth and reduce symptoms.
Tests and procedures used to diagnose glioblastoma include:
- Neurologic exam. This type of exam checks vision, hearing, balance, coordination, strength and reflexes. Problems in one or more of these areas might give clues about the part of the brain the glioblastoma affects.
- Imaging tests. Imaging tests can help find the location and size of a glioblastoma. MRI is often used to diagnose glioblastoma. Other imaging tests might include CT and positron emission tomography (PET).
Removing a sample of tissue for testing. A biopsy is a procedure to remove a sample of tissue for testing. It can be done with a needle before surgery or during surgery to remove the glioblastoma. The sample is sent to a lab for testing. Tests can tell whether the cells are cancerous and if they're glioblastoma cells.
Special tests of the cancer cells can give your health care team more information about your glioblastoma and your prognosis. The team uses this information to create a treatment plan.
Glioblastoma treatment options include:
- Surgery to remove the glioblastoma. A brain surgeon, also known as a neurosurgeon, works to remove as much of the tumor as possible. Glioblastoma often grows into the healthy brain tissue, so it might not be possible to remove all of the cancer cells. Most people have other treatments after surgery to get to the cancer cells that are left.
Radiation therapy. Radiation therapy uses powerful energy beams to kill cancer cells. The energy can come from sources such as X-rays and protons. During radiation therapy, you lie on a table while a machine moves around you. The machine directs radiation to certain points in your brain.
Radiation therapy is usually recommended after surgery. It might be combined with chemotherapy. For people who can't have surgery, radiation therapy and chemotherapy may be the main treatment.
Chemotherapy. Chemotherapy uses strong medicines to kill cancer cells. A chemotherapy medicine taken as a pill is often used after surgery and during and after radiation therapy. Other types of chemotherapy given through a vein might be the treatment for glioblastoma that returns.
Sometimes thin, circular wafers containing chemotherapy medicine might be put in the brain during surgery. The wafers dissolve slowly, releasing the medicine to kill cancer cells.
Tumor treating fields (TTF) therapy. TTF uses an electrical field to disrupt the cancer cells' ability to multiply. TTF involves putting sticky pads on the scalp. The pads are connected to a portable device that creates an electrical field.
TTF works with chemotherapy. It might be suggested after radiation therapy.
- Targeted therapy. Targeted therapy uses medicines that attack specific chemicals in the cancer cells. By blocking these chemicals, targeted treatments can cause cancer cells to die.
- Clinical trials. Clinical trials are studies of new treatments. These studies provide a chance to try the latest treatments. The risk of side effects might not be known. Ask your health care provider if you might be able to be in a clinical trial.
- Supportive care. Supportive care, which is also called palliative care, focuses on relieving pain and other symptoms of serious illness. This extra layer of support goes with other treatments, such as surgery, chemotherapy or radiation therapy.
There are ongoing studies of many other treatments for glioblastoma.