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Glioblastoma Multiforme

(GBM; Brain Tumor; Malignant Astrocytoma)
  • Definition

    Glioblastoma multiforme (GBM) is the most common glioma—a type of brain cancer. This cancer starts in the glial cells, which are cells that help nerve cells work.
    This condition can develop suddenly. It can also develop from a lower-grade, less cancerous brain tumor. Most cases are located in the cerebral hemisphere of the brain. The cancer can also begin in the spinal cord or brain stem.
    Brain Tumor
    Nucleus Image
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  • Causes

    GBM originates from astrocytes, which are a type of glial cells. The factors that cause normal-functioning astrocytes to become cancerous is not well understood.
  • Risk Factors

    GBM is more common in people over 50 years old, especially those who are Caucasian, Hispanic, and Asian. Factors that increase your chance of developing GBM include:
    • Having a low-grade brain tumor, which occasionally develops into a higher-grade tumor
    • Having one of the following genetic disorders:
    • Having had radiotherapy
    • Working in the synthetic rubber or petroleum-refining industries
    • Exposure to vinyl chloride or pesticides
    • Having had CT scans during childhood
  • Symptoms

    Symptoms include:
    • New onset headaches
    • New onset seizures
    • Progressive cognitive dysfunction—depends on the location of the tumor; problems with vision, language, motor function, or sensation may occur
    • Progressive neurological deficits, including weakness
    • Personality changes
    • Behavioral changes, development of inappropriate behaviors
    • Memory loss
  • Diagnosis

    You will be asked about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done.
    Images and scans may be taken of your brain. This can be done with:
    Your brain activity may be measured. This can be done with:
    Your bodily fluids and tissues may be tested. This can be done with:
  • Treatment

    Surgery is often done to confirm diagnosis and relieve headache, but doctors cannot completely remove the cancer. Other types of treatment may include:
    • Radiation treatment is used to further decrease the size of the tumor.
    • Chemotherapy is used to increase survival time and quality of life.
    • Steroids to suppress swelling, antiseizure medication to suppress seizures, and pain medications are also used.
    Even with aggressive treatment, few patients survive more than 5 years after diagnosis. However, there is evidence that medical and surgical intervention can increase life expectancy and improve quality of life.
    A multi-disciplinary approach is important for you and your family. This approach may involve:
    • Support groups
    • Psychotherapy and psychiatry
    • Pain management
    • Hospice care
  • Prevention

    As the causes of GBM are unknown, there are no preventive measures.

    American Brain Tumor Association

    National Brain Tumor Society


    Brain Tumour Foundation of Canada

    Canadian Cancer Society


    Adult brain tumors treatment (PDQ). National Cancer Institute website. Available at: Updated June 5, 2015. Accessed June 11, 2015.

    Glioblastoma. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: Updated March 30, 2015. Accessed June 11, 2015.

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