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Glioblastoma - Cancer

Glioblastoma is sometimes described as a disease that affects the “essence of self”, as the treatment and removal of glioblastoma presents significant challenges due to the complex nature of the brain. Glioblastoma is an aggressive type of cancer that occurs in the brain or spinal cord. Glioblastoma is the most common malignant, cancerous brain tumor, accounting for approximately half of all primary malignant brain tumors and is the most aggressive, complex, difficult to treat, and deadly type of brain tumor.

Image Credit: Glioblastoma Foundation

Each year an estimated 10,000 individuals US will be diagnosed with glioblastoma. The 5-year survival rate for glioblastoma patients is only 7.2 percent and the median length of survival for glioblastoma patients is only 8 months.

Research advances may fuel the development of new treatments for glioblastoma, challenging obstacles to accelerating progress toward new treatments for glioblastoma remain and there are no screening or early detection methods. Glioblastoma was first described in medical and scientific literature in the 1920s, and despite its devastating prognosis, only 4 drugs and 1 medical device have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration to treat glioblastoma since the 1920s and the mortality rates associated with glioblastoma have changed little during the past 30 years.

The National Cancer Institute established the Glioblastoma Therapeutics Network (referred to in this preamble as “GTN”) in 2020, as part of a national infrastructure to enhance and support the discovery and development of glioblastoma therapies. Tests and procedures used to diagnose glioblastoma include neurological exams, imaging tests, and biopsy. July 21 is national Glioblastoma Awarness Day.

Thank you to the Mayo Clinic for providing this overview of Glioblastoma treatment options include:

  • Surgery to remove the glioblastoma. Your brain surgeon (neurosurgeon) will work to remove the glioblastoma. The goal is to remove as much of the tumor as possible. But because glioblastoma grows into the normal brain tissue, complete removal isn't possible. For this reason, most people receive additional treatments after surgery to target the remaining cells.

  • Radiation therapy. Radiation therapy uses high-energy beams, such as X-rays or protons, to kill cancer cells. During radiation therapy, you lie on a table while a machine moves around you, directing beams to precise points in your brain. Radiation therapy is usually recommended after surgery and may be combined with chemotherapy. For people who can't undergo surgery, radiation therapy and chemotherapy may be used as a primary treatment.

  • Chemotherapy. Chemotherapy uses drugs to kill cancer cells. In some cases, thin, circular wafers containing chemotherapy medicine may be placed in your brain during surgery. The wafers dissolve slowly, releasing the medicine and killing cancer cells. After surgery, the chemotherapy drug temozolomide (Temodar) — taken as a pill — is often used during and after radiation therapy. Other types of chemotherapy may be recommended if your glioblastoma recurs. These other types of chemotherapy are often administered through a vein in your arm.

  • Tumor treating fields (TTF) therapy. TTF uses an electrical field to disrupt the tumor cells' ability to multiply. TTF involves applying adhesive pads to your scalp. The pads are connected to a portable device that generates the electrical field. TTF is combined with chemotherapy and may be recommended after radiation therapy.

  • Targeted drug therapy. Targeted drugs focus on specific abnormalities in cancer cells that allow them to grow and thrive. The drugs attack those abnormalities, causing the cancer cells to die. Bevacizumab (Avastin) targets the signals that glioblastoma cells send to the body that cause new blood vessels to form and deliver blood and nutrients to cancer cells. Bevacizumab may be an option if your glioblastoma recurs or doesn't respond to other treatments.

  • Clinical trials. Clinical trials are studies of new treatments. These studies give you a chance to try the latest treatment options, but the risk of side effects may not be known. Ask your doctor whether you might be eligible to participate in a clinical trial.

  • Supportive (palliative) care. Palliative care is specialized medical care that focuses on providing relief from pain and other symptoms of a serious illness. Palliative care specialists work with you, your family and your other doctors to provide an extra layer of support that complements your ongoing care. Palliative care can be used while undergoing other aggressive treatments, such as surgery, chemotherapy or radiation therapy.

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