Glioblastoma is a rare and aggressive cancer of the brain or spinal cord. It is an aggressive form of cancer with no cure available. However, with various treatments, you can slow the progression and manage the symptoms better. Glioblastoma can occur at any age, but it is often noticed among older adults.
What is Glioblastoma?
Glioblastoma is a form of brain or spinal cord cancer. The tumor rapidly multiplies and can metastasize to other areas of the brain. However, only in rare cases does the tumor spread to other body parts.
Glioblastoma forms on the star-shaped brain cells known as astrocytes. These star-shaped brain cells support nerve cells. The tumor makes its own blood supply, enabling it to multiply and invade normal brain tissue. Glioblastoma is also commonly referred to as glioblastoma multiforme. It is aggressive cancer that has no cure. But with treatments, you can slow the cancer from growing and reduce the symptoms.
What are the Types of Glioblastoma?
There are two types of glioblastoma, such as:
- Primary glioblastoma: It forms close to 90% of the cases and may more likely develop among older people. Primary glioblastoma can be aggressive and rapidly grows. Therefore, you may have a shorter life expectancy.
- Secondary glioblastoma: If you have a low-grade glioma, a tumor in your brain or spinal cord, the chances of it developing into a secondary glioblastoma are high. This form of cancer usually affects young adults. The tumor typically develops in the frontal lobe of your brain. However, you have a better survival rate in this type of cancer than in primary glioblastoma.
What are the Causes of Glioblastoma?
Experts are trying to find a cause for glioblastoma. However, certain risk factors increase your chances of developing the disease. They are as follows:
- Constant exposure to radiation or toxic substances, such as pesticides, petroleum, synthetic rubber, and vinyl chloride
- A family history of glioblastoma
- People who are 45 years and above
- A rare genetic condition such as Turcot syndrome, Neurofibromatosis type1, Li-Fraumeni syndrome
- Men are more susceptible than women
What are the Symptoms of Glioblastoma?
As glioblastoma is aggressive and fast-growing, it puts immense pressure on your brain resulting in:
- Intense and constant headaches
- Issues in cognitive ability
- Mood and personality changes
- Vision problems, such as double or blurred vision
- Speech problems
- Loss of appetite
- Lack of coordination and muscle weakness
- Sensory changes, such as increased numbness or tingling
When to Seek Medical Help for Glioblastoma?
If any signs or symptoms are affecting you, immediately seek medical attention.
How do Doctors Diagnose Glioblastoma?
If your doctor suspects glioblastoma, they may recommend the following tests and procedures to confirm their diagnosis:
- Nerve and brain function test: Your neurologist conducts a neurological exam to check for your vision, hearing, coordination, muscle strength, and reflexes. It may indicate a brain tumor if you find it challenging to perform tasks.
- Biopsy: Here, your doctor removes a small portion of your tumor to check for possible cancerous cells.
- Imaging test: Imaging tests, such as MRI and CT scans, are used to get a clear picture of your brain. These tests help in identifying cancerous cells in your brain. MRI is the most preferred imaging test for glioblastoma. PET scan is another test commonly used for patients with glioblastoma.
What are the Various Treatment Options for Glioblastoma?
As glioblastoma does not have a cure, it isn’t easy to treat it. These tumors rapidly grow and make a finger-like projections into the brain that is surgically challenging to remove. Also, these tumors contain different types of cells. Thus, specific treatments may work on certain cells, while others may not.
The following are the treatment options:
- Surgery: Your doctor may recommend surgery to remove as much of the tumor as possible
- Radiation therapy : Radiation therapy is a treatment option for glioblastoma that uses powerful energy beams, such as X-rays and protons, to destroy cancer cells. In this procedure, the patient lies on a table while a machine is moved around them, directing radiation to certain points of the brain. It is usually recommended after surgery and may be combined with chemotherapy. For those who are unable to have surgery, radiation therapy and chemotherapy may be the main form of treatment.
- Chemotherapy : Chemotherapy is also an option for treating glioblastoma, using strong medicines to destroy cancer cells. This may be taken orally or through a vein, and in some cases, thin wafers containing chemotherapy are placed in the brain during surgery, which dissolve slowly and release the medicine to kill cancer cells.
- Tumor treating fields (TTF) therapy : TTF therapy is another option, which uses electrical fields to disrupt the cancer cells’ ability to divide and multiply. This involves attaching sticky pads to the scalp, which are connected to a portable device that produces an electrical field. This therapy works alongside chemotherapy and may be recommended after radiation therapy.
- Targeted therapy. Targeted therapy is also availaheadachesble. The therapy uses medicines to target specific chemicals in the cancer cells and blocks them causing the cells to die
- Stereotactic radiosurgery: It is not a surgical procedure. Gamma knife radiosurgery is an advanced radiation therapy that precisely sends highly focused x-ray beams to the tumor therefore limiting the damage to surrounding healthy tissues. Your doctor may use this method when there is tumor growth after your initial IMRT treatment.
Glioblastoma is a disturbing discovery to make. It is concerning to know there may not be a cure. But there is hope with new treatment options to minimize the spread and alleviate the symptoms. Talk to your doctor about your various treatment options.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Is glioblastoma fatal?
As glioblastomas are aggressive, they almost always result in death. However, it is not true for everyone. Over 5% of people survive for 5 years, and nearly 0.71% survive for 10 years.