Glioma is a broad term used to describe the different types of glial tumors, which are astrocytoma, oligodendroglioma, and glioblastoma. Gliomas are the commonest type of tumors that originate in the brain. Glioma is a type of brain tumor that arises from glial (supporting tissue) cells in the brain and spinal cord. Glial cells are cells with supply the nerve cells with nutrients and help maintain the blood-brain barrier. There are different types of glial cells, and each has a different function. These are called astrocyte, oligodendrocyte, microglia, and ependymal cells.

Gliomas vary in their aggressiveness. Some are slow-growing and are highly curable whereas others are fast-growing, invasive, difficult to treat, and with a high recurrence rate and poor prognosis. Glioma can affect brain function and be life-threatening depending on its location and rate of growth.

Glioblastoma is also called glioblastoma multiforme. It is an extremely aggressive, fast growing type of cancer arising from the astrocytes in the brain or spinal cord. Glioblastoma can occur at any age but is more common in older adults. It is characterized by worsening headaches, nausea, vomiting, and seizures. Glioblastoma rarely spreads from the brain to other parts of the body but aggressively invades and spreads within the brain.

What are the signs and symptoms of glioma?

Glioblastomas can often have similar symptoms to other gliomas. The symptoms can vary depending on the location and size of the tumor. The symptoms can worsen over time as the tumor grows and invades other surrounding structures.

Common signs and symptoms of gliomas include:

What causes glioblastoma?

The exact cause of glioblastoma and other primary brain tumors is not known. Some factors may increase the risk of brain tumors. They are:

  • Age: Glioblastomas can occur at any age. The risk of brain tumors increases with age. Adults between ages 45 and 65 years are at a higher risk.
  • Radiation exposure: Exposure to a type of radiation called ionizing radiation increases the risk. The exposure can be due to radiation treatment of other cancers, atomic bombs, one’s occupation, etc. Other forms of radiation, such as electromagnetic fields, radiation from power lines, and radiofrequency radiation from microwave ovens increase the risk of glioma. There isn’t enough evidence to claim that cellphone use increases the risk of brain cancer.
  • Family history: Family history of glioma. It's rare for gliomas to run in families. However, a family history of gliomas can double the risk of developing cancers, including glioblastoma.

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How is glioblastoma treated?

Treatment of glioblastoma is difficult and involves multiple health care providers from many specialties. This includes doctors, nurses, dietitians, counselors, social workers, and occupational or physical therapists. Treatment plans depend on the patient’s age, overall health, and size and location of the tumor. There are several ongoing clinical research studies to improve and develop new treatment options.

Treatment options include:

  • Surgery to remove as much of the tumor as possible without affecting brain function. Magnetic resonance imaging or MRI might be used during the surgery to help guide the surgeon.
  • Alternating electrical field therapy (the use of low-energy electrical fields to treat cancer).
  • Chemotherapy (use of medications to kill cancer cells).
  • Radiotherapy (use of radiation to kill cancer cells).
  • Participation in a clinical research trial.
  • Medications to manage symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting, pain, and seizures.
  • Palliative care.

What is the prognosis of glioblastomas?

Glioblastoma is an aggressive, fast growing type of cancer. Glioblastoma rarely spreads from the brain to other parts of the body but aggressively invades and spreads within the brain. Glioblastoma can be difficult to treat and has a high recurrence rate. Treatments may slow down the progression of cancer and reduce signs and symptoms. Glioblastomas are often incurable and fatal.

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Medically Reviewed on 3/16/2021
References
American Association of Neurological Surgeons. Glioblastoma Multiforme. https://www.aans.org/en/Patients/Neurosurgical-Conditions-and-Treatments/Glioblastoma-Multiforme

Bruce JN. Glioblastoma Multiforme. Medscape. https://emedicine.medscape.com/article/283252-overview