Glioblastoma: Treating Brain Tumors

Thousands of people every year are diagnosed with brain conditions such as glioblastoma.

Around 2 in every 100 people are diagnosed with primary malignant tumors in the brain on an annual basis in the United States. The growths can begin in the brain and then spread to other parts of the body, thereby leading to a variety of signs and symptoms. The condition should be diagnosed and attended to early to help the patient cope with the debilitating effects. Knowing the risks, causes and effects will be beneficial for success and good health.

About Glioblastoma

Glioblastoma multiforme or GBM is the most common and cancerous among the glial tumors. Patients diagnosed with the condition will manifest a wide array of symptoms. There are also instances wherein patients can die from the effects and complications if left untreated. Out of the thousands of primary brain tumors found among patients in the United States every year, more than half are categorized as gliomas. These involve a heterogenous bunch of neoplasms that can be found in different places in the central nervous system. About 8% of the tumors found in the brain are malignant. Among deaths due to cancer in the United States, 2% is caused by malignant brain tumor.

There seems to be a higher prevalence among men when it comes to developing glioblastoma. However, early detection and young age will improve the prognosis significantly. Benign tumors are not considered medical emergencies although patients are still recommended to have the mass surgically removed. Cancerous or malignant tumors have to be attended to immediately. As the cells and tissues rapidly grow and spread, the functions and abilities of the brain can be impaired. Glioblastoma is one of the many primary cancerous brain tumors. There are also others like oligodendrogliomas, astrocytomas and ependymomas.

Causes of Glioblastoma

The true causes of glioblastoma are not fully known among doctors although several risk factors have also been identified that might contribute significantly to the development. Genetics is said to play a huge role in the formation of abnormal tissue mass.

Missing or mutated genes or chromosomes can lead to the abnormal growth and spread of cells. Radiation, pollution, environmental factors and drugs seem to predispose individuals to the development. Exposure to harmful agents and materials like pesticides, chemicals and other cancerous agents might also trigger the progress of the disorder. The condition cannot be passed on from one person to the next. It is also possible for benign tumors to stay harmless for life. Others, in rare occasions, may develop into cancerous masses.

Grading Glioblastoma

The glioblastoma will also differ in terms of size, shape and appearance. Tumors are generally graded based on how these look under a microscope. The grading is important to determine the potential effects and malignancy of the mass.

Certain factors will be determined such as the rate of the growth and spread, the necrotic middle region, the blood supply, appearance compared to normal cells and possibility of infecting or invading nearby tissues and cells. Malignant masses can have different grades of cells. There are usually four grades of tumors, with the first being the least cancerous. The type I or grade I are generally normal-looking and can be treated easily via surgery.

The type II or grade II tumor will develop faster compared to the previous type and have an abnormal appearance when viewed under the microscope. These can easily invade and affect nearby tissues. Grade III masses are described as cancerous and involve fast-replicating cells that will spread to other tissues. Grade IV masses are the most cancerous and can quickly move to different areas of the body. The cells will appear necrotic and new blood vessels might be created to support the spread.

Symptoms of Glioblastoma

Patients diagnosed with the condition will display a wide array of symptoms. Doctors have to carefully rule out other possible brain disorders until they come up with an accurate and definite diagnosis. The effects and symptoms will vary depending on the affected part of the brain.

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If the front part or lobe is affected, the person may show changes in personality, mood or behavior or become paralyzed on one side of the body. If the temporal region is affected, there could be problems with memory, coordination, communication and speech. If the cerebellum is affected, the person might have difficulty in coordination and balance. If the parietal lobe of the brain is involved, changes in sensation and difficulty with fine motor skills and writing will manifest. If the occipital region is involved, the person might have vision problems and experience visual hallucinations.

There are several other symptoms of glioblastoma such as nausea, dizziness, headache, vomiting, difficulty finding the right words to use, difficulty understanding words, clumsiness, confusion, slow learning, difficulty hearing, problems in walking, speech difficulty, double vision, memory loss, poor focus, lack of concentration, numbness in the extremities, unilateral numbness or paralysis, weakness in the extremities or weakness in one arm or leg, seizure, fainting or loss of consciousness and depression.

Treating Glioblastoma

Once glioblastoma is properly identified in patients, the treatment approach will usually aim towards eradicating the benign or cancerous cells. There are different ways to achieve this such as through maximal surgical removal, radiation therapy, chemotherapy and medication. Certain factors have to be considered to guarantee the effectiveness of the approach as well as the safety of the patient.

Surgery will involve removal of the developing mass by re-sectioning the head then locating the abnormal growth in the brain. Radiation therapy involves targeting the mass with dosed radiation to eliminate the cancer cells and preserve the healthy cells. Radiosurgery may also be done in certain cases. Chemotherapy is a common intervention which involves the administration of drugs that will specifically target the cancer cells and keep it from spreading or affecting nearby cells.

More and more treatments for glioblastoma are being developed to improve the response of patients and guarantee good prognosis. The side effects of the previous approaches will vary depending on how the patient responds to treatment and the severity of the condition. In chemotherapy, the medications can be provided via the mouth, the muscles, the blood vessels and the spinal cord or fluid. Patients should constantly be monitored for possible side effects and complications. Report all significant improvements as well as adverse reactions to the doctor. Over time, the doctor might adjust the dose accordingly.