Malignant Brain Tumor Diagnosis: What it Means & What to Expect

If you or a loved one have recently received a brain tumor diagnosis, you’re probably searching for answers. An initial diagnosis of a brain tumor is generally made after a neurological assessment and imaging tests. These tests may include magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or computerized tomography (CT).

If an abnormality is detected, a neurosurgeon will take a biopsy of the tumor to determine whether it’s benign (noncancerous) or malignant (cancerous). It is estimated that in 2022, about 25,000 malignant brain and spinal cord tumors will be diagnosed.

Beating a malignant brain tumor can be difficult, but the odds continue to improve with modern technology and medicine. Here’s a closer look at what you can expect with this diagnosis.

What Happens if a Brain Tumor is Cancerous?

Brain tumors are either metastatic or primary. Metastatic tumors occur when cancer cells from a tumor located in another part of the body break away and travel to the brain, where they begin to grow new tumors. The most common cancers that metastasize to the brain are lung and breast cancer.

Primary brain tumors are tumors that begin in the brain. A glioblastoma brain tumor is a fast-growing malignant tumor that accounts for nearly 50 percent of all primary brain tumor cases.

Brain tumors are graded on how malignant the cells are. More benign tumors are generally grade 1 and 2, while malignant tumors are considered grade 3 or 4. Malignant brain tumors can grow quickly and spread to other areas of the brain and spinal cord if left untreated.

Symptoms you may already be experiencing can increase, including headaches, problems with vision, nausea, difficulty with balance, and other physical issues. So, if a brain tumor is determined to be cancerous, your medical team will likely want to start treatment as quickly as possible.

Treatment Options for Malignant Brain Tumors

The standard of care for most malignant brain tumors includes surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy. Depending on the location, size, and grade of the brain tumor, your neurosurgeon will provide you with surgical options. Their goal with surgery is to remove as much of the tumor as possible; without harming healthy tissue in the surrounding areas that might affect brain function. Surgery and the extent of the tumor that can be removed, or resected, has been shown to be directly related to survival. A gross total resection in which 90 percent or more of the tumor can be removed as been shown to provide the best survival benefit.

Surgery is usually followed by radiation, which is used to destroy an remaining cancer cells that were not visible or accessible to the surgeon. Radiation, along with chemotherapy, should typically be initiated within 3-6 weeks after surgery. The most common type of radiation therapy uses high-energy x-rays to destroy tumor cells. It is recommended that fractionated radiotherapy be administered over 6 weeks. Hypo-fractionated radiotherapy may be preferred in certain elderly patient populations.

In addition to radiation, chemotherapy drugs are also used to kill cancer cells. Chemotherapy drugs can be administered by IV, injection, or pill. These drugs can be used alone or in combination with other treatments. The oral chemotherapy, Temodar, is normally used to treat glioblastoma.

Another drug treatment option involves using targeted drugs to treat glioblastoma or repurposing existing therapies that have already been approved for other medical conditions. The Glioblastoma Foundation is actively raising money to fund new clinical trials to test and gain approval for existing drugs to treat glioblastoma, a common form of malignant brain cancer. Your donation will help us fulfill our mission to improve the current standard of care for this deadly disease.

What is the Life Expectancy for Brain Tumor Patients?

The survival rate for malignant brain tumors will vary and can depend on the type, size, and location of the tumor. Some cases can be cured if caught early.

Overall, the five-year survival rate for patients with a cancerous brain tumor is about 36 percent, which means the survival rate may be higher or lower, depending on the type of cancer. Glioblastoma, a very aggressive and deadly form of primary brain cancer, has an average survival of about 12 to 15 months with treatment.

Your doctor will have more information about treatment options and the survival rates for your specific form of cancer.

The Glioblastoma Foundation Has Resources to Help

The mission of the Glioblastoma Foundation is to improve treatment options for patients with this devastating disease. We’re available to review your case and provide a list of clinical trials that may be right for your diagnosis and treatment plan.

Donations to the Glioblastoma Foundation go directly to fund the development of novel drug therapies for glioblastoma. We’re committed to funding new, more effective therapies to extend survival for patients diagnosed with glioblastoma and improve the standard of care for glioblastoma.

©2022 Glioblastoma Foundation. All rights reserved.

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

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