Glioblastoma Multiforme
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Glioblastoma Multiforme

(GBM; Brain Tumor; Malignant Astrocytoma)

Pronounced: GLEE-oh-blass-TOE-mah

En Español (Spanish Version)More InDepth Information on This Condition

Definition

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 spontaneously. Less commonly, it can develop from a lower grade, less malignant (cancerous) brain tumor. Most cases are located in the cerebral hemisphere, but the cancer can begin in the spinal cord or brain stem.

If you suspect you have this serious condition, contact your doctor immediately. Early treatment leads to a more favorable outcome.

Brain Tumor

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Causes

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.

Risk Factors

These factors increase your chance of developing GBM. Tell your doctor if you have any of these risk factors:

  • Sex: male (slightly more common in men that women)
  • Age: over 50 years old
  • Ethnicity: Caucasians, Latinos, Asians
  • Having a low-grade astrocytoma (brain tumor), which occasionally develops into a higher-grade tumor
  • Having one of the following genetic disorders is associated with an increased incidence of gliomas
  • Radiotherapy (association between high-dose ionizing radiation and astrocytoma)

There is inconsistent evidence that electromagnetic radiation and cell phone use are associated with this condition.

Symptoms

Symptoms include:

  • New onset headaches—more than 30% of patients
  • New onset seizures—20% to 30% patients
  • Progressive cognitive dysfunction—depends on the location of the tumor; problems with vision, language, motor function, or sensation may occur
  • Personality changes
  • Behavioral changes, development of inappropriate behaviors
  • Memory loss

Diagnosis

After taking a complete history of your symptoms and completing a physical exam, your doctor may also use the following tests:

  • CT scan —a type of x-ray that uses a computer to make pictures of structures inside the brain
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan —a test that uses magnetic waves to make pictures of structures inside the brain
  • Functional MRI (fMRI)—a test that gathers information on blood flow within tumors, gives more information about the tumor and the function of surrounding normal brain tissue
  • MRS scan—a test which measures metabolism (of the affected area) in the brain
  • Electroencephalogram (EEG) —a test that records the brain's activity by measuring electrical currents through the brain
  • Brain biopsy —removal of a sample of brain tissue to test for abnormalities in the brain
  • Spinal tap —removal of a small amount of cerebrospinal fluid to check for abnormalities in the brain
  • Positron emission tomography (PET) scan —produces images that show the amount of functional activity in the living tissue being studied

Treatment

Surgery is often done to confirm diagnosis and relieve headache, but doctors cannot completely remove the cancer.

Radiation treatment is used to further decrease the size of the tumor, usually by about 25%. Chemotherapy also increases survival time and quality of life. Steroids to suppress swelling, antiseizure medication to suppress seizures, and pain medications are also used.

Currently, researchers are studying new treatments. These include immunotherapy, anti-angiogenesis (to stop tumors from making new blood cells), molecular therapy, and gene therapy. More research needs to be done in these areas.

Unfortunately, overall prognosis is poor. Even with aggressive treatment, few patients survive more than five 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, psychiatry, pain management, and hospice care when needed.

Prevention

As the causes of GBM are unknown, there are no preventive measures.

RESOURCES:

American Brain Tumor Association
http://www.abta.org

Brain Tumor Society
http://www.tbts.org

National Brain Tumor Foundation (NBTF)
http://www.braintumor.org

CANADIAN RESOURCES:

Brain Tumor Foundation of Canada
http://www.btfc.org

Canadian Cancer Society
http://www.cancer.ca

References:

Adult brain tumors: treatment for glioblastoma. National Cancer Institute website. Available at: http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/pdq/treatment/adultbrain/HealthProfessional/page9 . Accessed September 29, 2005.

Anti-angiogenesis treatment. American Cancer Society website. Available at: http://www.cancer.org/docroot/ETO/eto_1_3_Antiangiogenesis_Therapy.asp . Accessed May 22, 2008.

Brain tumor-adults. Medline Plus Medical Encyclopedia website. Available at: http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/007222.htm . Accessed September 29, 2005.

Brain tumors. The Merck Manual of Medical Information: Second Home Edition Online website. Available at: http://www.merck.com/mmhe/sec06/ch088/ch088b.html . Accessed September 29, 2005.

Dictionary of cancer terms. National Cancer Institute website. Available at: http://www.cancer.gov/dictionary/ . Accessed May 22, 2008.

Glioblastoma multiforme. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed/what.php . Accessed May 23, 2008.

National Cancer Institute brain tumor study in adults: fact sheet. National Cancer Institute website. Available at: http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/factsheet/braintumorstudy . Accessed May 22, 2008.

Samuels MA, Feske SK. Office Practice of Neurology . Philadelphia, PA: Churchhill Livingstone; 2003.



Last reviewed March 2008 by J. Thomas Megerian, MD, PhD, FAAP

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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