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Glioblastoma: Causes, Symptoms and Treatments

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Glioblastoma is a fast-growing type of cancer that tends to occur in the brain or spinal cord. Glioblastoma is the most common primary brain tumor, meaning it is the most common brain tumor that starts in your brain. Unfortunately, glioblastoma is also the deadliest primary brain tumor.

Also known as glioblastoma multiforme (GBM), glioblastoma is a difficult cancer to treat and a cure is not always possible.

What causes glioblastoma? 

Only about five percent of glioblastoma cases may be caused by a hereditary, or inherited, condition. Researchers aren’t yet able to determine the cause of the remaining 95% of glioblastoma cases diagnosed every year.

We do know, thanks to years of research, that glioblastoma cells contain more genetic abnormalities than other types of brain cancer. Because of the high amount of genetic abnormalities, researchers believe there are multiple genetic mutations at work when a glioblastoma develops. Genetic mutations can be caused by many things, such as inheriting a DNA abnormality, exposure to carcinogens or radiation.

What are glioblastoma symptoms?

Symptoms of glioblastoma vary depending on where the tumor is growing. For example, if the glioblastoma multiforme is growing on the area of your brain that controls your speech, you may find it difficult to speak.

As the glioblastoma multiforme tumor gets larger and takes up more space inside your skull, additional symptoms may develop because of the increasing pressure on your brain.

Many glioblastoma multiforme systems slowly get worse as time goes on.

Here are a few symptoms that could be caused by glioblastoma:

  • Headaches
  • Trouble learning new skills
  • Loss of appetite
  • Loss of balance
  • Mood swings/personality changes
  • Speaking difficulties
  • Memory loss/unable to remember new things
  • Seizures
  • Fatigue
  • Vision changes
  • Weakness

All of the symptoms mentioned above could be caused by many other non-cancerous health problems, but it is still very important to see a healthcare professional if you’re experiencing any of them. The only way to know for sure if you have cancer is to visit with a healthcare professional and complete diagnostic testing.

How do you treat glioblastoma?

Depending on the size and location of the glioblastoma, treatment for a glioblastoma can vary. Here are a few of the treatment options:

  • Surgery to remove as much of the glioblastoma as possible
  • Chemotherapy
  • Radiation therapy
  • Targeted drug therapy
  • Clinical trials
  • Palliative (supportive) care

Why is glioblastoma hard to treat?

Glioblastoma multiforme is difficult to treat because it grows very quickly, starting in brain cells that are called astrocytes. Astrocytes are the cells in your brain that create a protective barrier around your brain. When these astrocytes start uncontrollably multiplying and growing out of control, they become a malignant tumor, called glioblastoma multiforme, and spread to other areas of the brain.

Click here to learn more about the WMHS Neurosurgey team.

Sources: MayoClinic.org, cedars-sinai.org, Moffitt.org