Five Things You Need to Know About Glioblastomas

September 9, 2014 Brigham and Women's Hospital

Glioblastoma is the most common type of primary brain tumor.

The Center for Neuro-Oncology at Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women’s Cancer Center brings together cancer experts from Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Dana-Farber Cancer Institute to offer state-of the-art treatment for patients with brain tumors, spinal cord tumors, and neurologic complications from cancer. Today’s post originally appeared on Insight, the blog of Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.

Glioblastomas are the most common primary cancer of the brain. Although it is a fast-moving cancer, doctors know a lot about this type of tumor and are finding ways to fight it.

Here are five things you need to know about glioblastomas:

1. What is a glioblastoma?

A glioblastoma is a central nervous system tumor. It is formed in the supportive tissue of the spinal cord and brain and is typically found more often in adults. It is an astrocytic tumor, which means it begins in the star-shaped cells in the brain called astrocytes.

2. What are the symptoms?

Brain tumor symptoms depend on where the tumor starts in the brain, what size it is, and what part of the brain it controls. The symptoms are also not the same in every person. Symptoms can include:

  • Progressively worsening headache
  • Frequent nausea and vomiting, often worse in the morning
  • Loss of appetite
  • Vision, hearing, and speech problems
  • Loss of balance and trouble walking
  • Weakness
  • Unusual sleepiness or change in activity level
  • Changes in personality, mood, ability to focus, or behavior
  • Seizures

3. Are there certain risk factors for glioblastomas?

The cause of most adult brain tumors is unknown. However, doctors have found that some rare genetic syndromes may increase the risk of brain tumors, including glioblastoma.

Genetic syndromes that increase risk:

4. How do doctors diagnose a glioblastoma?

Doctors use various procedures that examine the brain and diagnose a possible brain tumor. In addition to a physical exam, doctors may perform neurological exams to test a person’s mental status and coordination, as well exams to test vision. Other tests can include:

  • CT scan
  • MRI
  • SPECT scan
  • PET scan
  • Angiogram

Biopsies also are used as a tool to diagnose glioblastomas. Brain biopsies take a piece of tissue from the brain and test it for cancerous cells. This is typically done after a brain tumor has been revealed by imaging tests.

5. What treatments are available for glioblastomas?

Several different treatment options are available for glioblastomas, and are chosen based upon the tumor and your oncologist’s treatment plan:

  • Surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy are routinely provided.
  • Chemotherapy can sometimes be placed into the brain during surgery.
  • Radiation and chemotherapy given at the same time.
  • A clinical trial of a new treatment added to a standard treatment.

There are currently 19 clinical trials for glioblastoma patients at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. Some trials are for newly diagnosed patients, while other trials are for patients with recurrent glioblastoma. A national list of trials is available at

You can learn more about living with brain tumors at our annual educational event.

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