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Finding out You Have Glioblastoma Multiforme

separator Glioblastoma multiforme is the most common of the primary brain tumors. Glioblastoma is also called a malignant astrocytoma, which is a tumor that starts in the brain cells that are called astrocytes, because they're shaped like stars. These types of tumors occur most frequently in adults between ages 45 and 70.

Glioblastoma tumors generally spread out like tentacles. The cells of these tumors typically grow and multiply quickly and spread into nearby tissue.

Symptoms of glioblastoma

The symptoms for this type of brain tumor are the same as for any kind of brain tumor. They include:

  • Abnormal pulse and breathing rate
  • Seizures
  • Deep headaches that come back frequently
  • Trouble walking or speaking
  • Dizziness
  • Vision problems
  • Trouble speaking

Treatment for glioblastoma multiforme

Surgery and radiation are the main treatments for glioblastoma multiforme. In most cases, it's difficult to remove all of the tumor during surgery. It's also possible that doctors will not be able to operate on the tumor at all, if it's too deeply embedded in the brain tissue.

Radiation therapy can help to decrease the size of the tumor. Patients often begin radiation 2 to 4 weeks after surgery on the tumor. Generally, radiation takes place five days a week, for 4 to 6 weeks. The treatments usually take only a few moments. After the radiation treatments end, patients usually have an MRI to assess the state of the tumor.

Chemotherapy can increase survival time and it can improve the quality of life. Some patients may also receive steroids to help control swelling and anti-seizure medication to control seizures.

But the difficult truth is that even if you receive aggressive treatment for glioblastoma multiforme, the tumor is likely to continue to grow and come back, and additional treatment, if it's available, will be needed to keep the tumor from growing. New treatments for glioblastoma are in development, however. Be sure to read the news article in this issue about a new drug that's in clinical trials right now.

Don't forget about clinical trials

Many people have the idea that clinical trials offer little more than false hope to patients who have few options left. But research has shown that clinical trials can be more helpful to patients than experts previously believed.

Results of clinical trials can vary widely, of course. But study published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2005 showed that

  • About 3 percent of patients experienced a disappearance of their cancer
  • 8 percent experience substantial shrinkage of tumors
  • About 34 percent experienced stabilization of their disease or some degree of tumor shrinkage
  • Many patients say that their quality of life is improved because they have not given up.

Patients saw the highest responses when they took part in trials that combined already-approved drugs with experimental drugs, or when they took approved drugs in experimental doses.

If you're interested in exploring this option, visit and type "glioblastoma multiforme" in the search box.

A time for friends and family to pull together

A diagnosis of glioblastoma multiforme is a hard time for the patient and family. Any cancer diagnosis is difficult, and brain tumors can be especially frightening to some people, but glioblastoma multiforme is a particularly serious type. Patients and families can benefit from getting help from a social worker, support group or other similar service. Often, these are offered at the hospital where you get your treatment.

American Brain Tumor Association; American Cancer Society; National Cancer Institute; New England Journal of Medicine, March 2005
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