Glioblastoma: What Every Patient Needs to Know

Glioblastoma Brain ScanGlioblastoma is the most common and aggressive form of malignant brain tumor in adults, yet most people have never heard of this form of cancer. For those who are familiar with glioblastoma, it’s usually because they, or someone that they care about, have recently been diagnosed.

Glioblastoma has made headlines in recent years, after the passing of well-known political names, including U.S. Senators John McCain and Ted Kennedy and Beau Biden, the son of President Joe Biden. After the death of John McCain, the U.S. Senate voted unanimously to designate the third Wednesday in July as Glioblastoma Awareness Day, bringing much-needed attention to this disease.

Here’s a closer look at Glioblastoma and what every patient and loved one needs to know.

How Aggressive Is This Type of Cancer?

Glioblastoma is a very aggressive form of brain cancer, and currently, there is no cure. It grows fast and can spread quickly, so by the time it’s diagnosed, the chances for survival are low. The average life expectancy for glioblastoma patients who undergo treatment is 12-15 months and only four months for those who do not receive treatment.

Glioblastomas develop from glial cells in the brain and spinal cord. Glial cells play an important role in brain function and development. There are many types of glial cells, including astrocytes, which researchers know can mutate and form into glioblastoma tumors. Astrocytes are star-shaped, so glioblastomas are infiltrative in nature and develop tentacles that can spread disease to other parts of the brain. This can also make it difficult to fully remove glioblastoma tumors during surgery without harming surrounding healthy brain tissue.  Currently, an interdisciplinary approach to treatment is used, with maximal surgical resection of the tumor being on component.

What Triggers Glioblastoma?

The exact cause of glioblastoma is not yet known. It can occur at any age but generally impacts older adults. According to the Mayo Clinic, in addition to age, other risk factors may increase a person’s chances of developing this type of brain tumor, including exposure to certain types of radiation and a family history of the disease. While GBM is not believed to be hereditary, having a family member with the disease can double the risk of developing it.

By the time symptoms appear and a patient consults their doctor, glioblastoma can be advanced. Symptoms can vary widely from patient to patient but can include headaches or neck pain, changes in vision, nausea, disorientation, and difficulties speaking. Some symptoms of glioblastoma can be similar to a stroke, so it’s important to get a full workup from their doctor to get an accurate diagnosis.

Treatments for Glioblastoma

The current standard of care for glioblastoma is comprised of surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation. Maximal surgical resection is followed by adjuvant chemotherapy and radiation. Unfortunately, doctors and researchers have not made the same treatment strides against glioblastoma that they’ve had against other forms of cancer, so little survival benefit has resulted for patients over the past half century.

Because of the infiltrative nature of glioblastoma and the lack of treatment advancement over the past 50 years, only about 5 percent of glioblastoma patients survive more than five years, which means that doctors, researchers, and nonprofit organizations like the Glioblastoma Foundation have a lot of work to do to change that survival rate. The Glioblastoma Foundation is working very hard to improve the outcome for patients and change this devastating disease into a manageable chronic condition.

Physicians and researchers funded by the Glioblastoma Foundation are leading the charge to transform the standard of care for glioblastoma by focusing on research to pursue targeted therapies designed to provide innovative treatment options for patients. Research supported by the Glioblastoma Foundation includes repurposing existing drug therapies, clinical trials, focused ultrasound therapy, and advances in early detection.

Glioblastoma has proven to be a fierce adversary to current treatment options. Tumors can mutate and become resistant to current treatments such as radiation and chemotherapy,  so new drugs and other therapies are needed to stay ahead of this disease. As part of the Glioblastoma Foundation's focus on drug repurposing, several drugs currently on the market for other conditions have been identified that may provide hope to glioblastoma patients in the future.

Each potential glioblastoma drug will need to be tested in clinical trials. The Glioblastoma Foundation has launched a fundraising drive to provide grants to fund drug repurposing trials for glioblastoma. If you would like to contribute to our mission, your donation will directly fund the development of novel therapies for glioblastoma.

We’re also making strides to improve neurosurgical techniques and therapeutic treatments for glioblastoma. The Neil Peart Neurosurgery Research Award was established in 2020 by Glioblastoma Foundation in honor of the late musician Neil Peart, best known as the drummer for the rock band Rush. Donations from fans, family, and friends allowed the Glioblastoma Foundation to establish this unique annual research award to encourage neurosurgeons to innovate surgical techniques and therapeutic methods for glioblastoma.

Glioblastoma Foundation Provides Help to Patients and Families

The Glioblastoma Foundation is also a helpful resource for glioblastoma patients and their families. If you have questions about a glioblastoma diagnosis, we’re here to provide resources about clinical trials and other treatment options.

The Glioblastoma Foundation is a leader in providing clinical trial matching to patients. Glioblastoma patients and families who have worked with the Glioblastoma Foundation are grateful for the added support and medical expertise to help them make the best decisions for their loved one's treatment.

Our staff of researchers, doctors, and pharmacists are here to answer questions and discuss your diagnosis and treatment options. Call us at 919-402-1775 or email us at We are the first and only national nonprofit focused on fighting glioblastoma and improving patient outcomes.

©2021 Glioblastoma Foundation. All rights reserved.

The current standard of care for glioblastoma consisting of radiation and chemotherapy is ineffective.

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