Jul 05, 2018 1:00 PM

Author: Neuro-Oncology Patient Care Team


Standard treatment for glioblastoma includes radiation therapy.

With the news of Senator John McCain’s glioblastoma diagnosis and subsequent passing, we asked Howard Colman, MD, PhD, and his team of experts at Huntsman Cancer Institute about symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment of this cancer.

What is glioblastoma?

Glioblastoma is an aggressive type of brain cancer. These tumors sometimes involve large areas of the brain and can affect the nervous system. Glioblastoma is the most common type of malignant brain tumor, but it is rare compared to more common cancers such as breast, prostate, or colorectal cancer. There are about 7 diagnoses each year per 100,000 people in the United States.

What are the symptoms?

The symptoms of glioblastoma depend on where the tumor is located in the brain. Symptoms can include headaches, seizures, confusion or memory problems, fatigue, numbness, and weakness. Symptoms often get worse over weeks or months as the tumors grow.

How is it diagnosed?

The symptoms above may lead to a patient getting a CT scan or MRI of the brain. If these imaging tests show there may be a brain tumor, the health care provider will order a biopsy so that the tumor tissue can be examined under a microscope.

Tests of the tumor tissue can help confirm the diagnosis and can give information about whether the tumor will respond well to the standard treatments.

How do you treat glioblastoma? Does HCI offer any clinical trials for glioblastoma?

The standard treatment includes radiation and a pill form of chemotherapy (temozolomide). Another option is to use a device that delivers an electrical field to the tumor. The device is used along with chemotherapy after radiation. These treatments have shown the biggest benefits in slowing tumor growth and prolonging survival.

Unfortunately glioblastoma is hard to cure. So doctors and researchers are trying to develop new and more effective treatments through clinical trials. HCI is very active in clinical trials for glioblastoma and is part of multiple national and international trials. Search for clinical trials at HCI.

What is the prognosis?

Average survival with the standard treatments may range from 16–22 months. Some patients survive several years with glioblastoma, but the percentage of those patients is unfortunately lower than we would like. The percentage of patients alive at five years after diagnosis ranges in various recent studies from about 10–15%.

What would you say to someone with glioblastoma to give them hope?

Even though glioblastoma is aggressive, the standard treatments and clinical trials can work well for some patients to prevent tumor growth and prolong life. Treatment can also reduce the symptoms that happen when the tumor grows.

It is important to understand the realities of this type of cancer, but it’s also important to focus on living a fulfilling life and to maintain hope that you can be one of the patients that beats the averages.

All of us on the neuro-oncology patient care team feel privileged to help patients with any kind of brain or spine tumor get through diagnosis and treatment in a way that is best for each patient and family.

Learn more about brain cancers.


Neuro-Oncology Patient Care Team

Huntsman Cancer Institute
cancerinfo@hci.utah.edu

cancer care brain cancer clinical trials

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