What is Glioblastoma Multiforme?

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  • Written By: D. Jeffress
  • Edited By: Jenn Walker
  • Last Modified Date: 27 December 2019
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A glioblastoma multiforme is a type of malignant brain tumor that emerges and spreads rapidly. A person can suffer from a brain tumor at any age, though this specific type most frequently afflicts people over the age of 50. Glioblastomas typically cause a range of symptoms, from chronic headaches to diminished cognitive functioning, and they are ultimately fatal in the majority of cases. When a tumor is detected, doctors usually try a combination of surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation treatments to ease symptoms and slow the progression of the cancer.

Physicians are generally unsure of what triggers the development of glioblastomas, but research suggests that genetics can play a significant role. Many patients diagnosed with brain tumors have a familial history of cancer and other cognitive problems. Some professionals believe that certain environmental factors, including the use of cell phones and exposure to toxic chemicals, may also lead to tumors, but there is not enough reliable scientific research data to confirm the hypothesis.

A glioblastoma multiforme usually originates as a small precancerous lesion within the temporal, frontal, or parietal lobe of the brain. Lesions tend to turn malignant and begin to spread quickly, and a tumor can fully form in less than one year. The aggressive cancer can migrate to other lobes of the brain and, left untreated, invade the brain stem and other parts of the body.


In its earlier stages, a glioblastoma multiforme may not cause any noticeable symptoms. As a tumor grows, a person might experience headaches, nausea, weakness, and vomiting. A late-stage tumor usually causes difficulty concentrating, mood and behavior changes, and eventual sensory loss. Some people have seizures or strokes as a result of tumors disrupting electrical pathways in the brain. It is very important to report any possible symptoms of a glioblastoma multiforme to a physician immediately to ensure an accurate diagnosis and prompt treatment.

A specialist can check for signs of a glioblastoma multiforme by taking computerized tomography (CT) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans of the brain. If CT and MRI results indicate abnormalities, a surgeon will take a biopsy of tissue from the suspected tumor for laboratory analysis. Lab tests are used to confirm the type of tumor a patient has, its stage, and the likelihood that it will spread to other parts of the brain.

Once a diagnosis is made, doctors can consider treatment options. Surgery is the preferred treatment for small, early-stage tumors in an effort to entirely remove cancerous tissue from the brain. Most tumors are not detected early enough, however, for surgery to be effective on its own. In most cases, chemotherapy and radiation therapy are administered to ablate cancerous cells that remain after surgical procedures. Since glioblastomas are aggressive and persistent, it is often impossible to completely eradicate the cancer.


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