Glioblastomas | Neurology & Neurosurgery | Loyola Medicine

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Overview and Facts about Glioblastomas

Glioblastoma is an aggressive brain cancer. These types of tumors form from astrocytes, which are cells that normally help support nerve cells. As cancer continues to spread, it will invade nearby blood vessels and other regions of the brain. This cancer rarely spreads to other parts of the body.

Signs and Symptoms of Glioblastomas

In glioblastomas, symptoms often come on very quickly because of how fast the tumor grows. Symptoms can also appear because of fluid accumulation around the tumor that presses on regions of the brain. You might feel fine one day and then suddenly develop severe symptoms, such as:

Causes and Risk Factors of Glioblastomas

Glioblastomas are caused when part of the genetic code of an astrocyte gets corrupted. These cells rapidly create copies of themselves causing the tumor to grow in size and spread to other parts of the body. Doctors aren’t sure what causes these genetic changes to occur, but they have linked glioblastomas to several conditions, including:

  • Li-Fraumeni syndrome, which can cause several types of cancer
  • Neurofibromatosis type 1, which causes changes in skin color and tumors in the nervous system
  • Turcot syndrome, which causes people to form growths in the colon and brain

Glioblastomas are also more common in men, and the average age of diagnosis is 64 years old. There has been an association of glioblastoma with exposure to previous ionizing radiation. However, there is no risk with use to mobile phones or an inherited risk to offspring in patients who have been diagnosed with this tumor.

Tests and Diagnosis of Glioblastomas

If you are experiencing the symptoms above, you will be referred to a neurologist (a doctor who specializes in neurology) to determine if you have a glioblastoma. First, they will perform a physical exam to look at your overall health. Then, they’ll perform a neurological exam to check your balance, hearing, vision and coordination. There are also several imaging tests they will order, including:

  • CT scan to look at cross-sectional images of the brain
  • MRI to look at detailed images of the brain

If these tests come back positive, a brain biopsy may be required. This involves taking a small tissue sample of the tumor to confirm whether or not it is glioblastoma. Additional molecular studies are then done to assess presence of specific markers that may drive treatment and help predict outcomes.

Treatment and Care for Glioblastomas

Treatment options often combine several approaches, because a glioblastoma often grows into the healthy brain tissue making it hard to attack. Treatments available include:

  • Chemotherapy to kill tumor cells with drugs
  • Radiation to kill tumor cells with X-ray energy
  • Surgery to remove as much of the tumor as possible
  • Tumor treating fields to use electricity to stop tumor cells from reproducing