Glioblastomas are the most common form of malignant brain tumor that originates from the brain. Because they grow and spread rapidly throughout the brain, they are very difficult to treat.

A glioblastoma can also be referred to as a grade IV glioma or astrocytoma. This is the most severe type of glioma.

At this time, there is no treatment available that can eliminate glioblastomas or stop them from growing. However, there are several treatment options that can relieve patients’ symptoms, improve their quality of life, and slow the growth of the tumor, sometimes for a period of years.

Where do glioblastomas occur?

Like other gliomas, glioblastomas develop from cells that normally inhabit the brain. They are thought to arise most likely from a small subpopulation of cells called neural stem cells or neural progenitor cells. You may hear physicians refer to a glioblastoma as a “grade IV glioma” or “grade IV astrocytoma.”

Glioblastomas tend to arise in the cerebral hemispheres of the brain. These are the large areas on each side of the brain that we typically envision when we think of “the brain.” Specifically, many glioblastomas are found in the frontal and temporal lobes of the cerebral hemispheres, although they may be found in other areas. These parts of the brain control many critical functions of the body, including speech, memory, and movement.

What are the symptoms of a glioblastoma?

The symptoms of a glioblastoma can come on severely and abruptly. Some patients may need to seek treatment in the emergency room.

Common glioblastoma symptoms include:

  • Headaches, often in the early morning
  • Seizures
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Changes in personality
  • Difficulty speaking or understanding speech
  • Difficulty moving one side of the body

How are glioblastomas treated?

There are two main goals of treatment for glioblastoma: slowing the growth of the tumor as much as possible and improving the patient’s quality of life as much as possible.

Surgery is usually the first-line of treatment for glioblastomas. It is followed in most cases by a combination of radiation therapy and chemotherapy. Some patients may also be treated with new targeted or immunotherapies.

Glioblastoma patients often receive treatment through clinical trials. Siteman Cancer Center houses more clinical trials than any other facility in the region, and your care team will inform you if a specific trial could be a good match for you.

Surgery for glioblastoma

Glioblastomas are complicated to remove surgically and cannot be removed completely. These tumors are not contained in a single mass; instead, they send tiny fingers of cancer cells into the brain in every direction. In addition, glioblastomas may be located in areas of the brain that are vital to a patient’s ability to move and speak.

Fortunately, glioblastoma surgery is now safer and more effective than ever before, thanks to new technologies that allow for enhanced tumor visualization as well as localization of critical brain structures.

Most patients with glioblastomas will undergo a craniotomy. This is a procedure in which surgeons access the brain through an opening in the skull.

Washington University neurosurgeons use a number of advanced techniques that help them to remove more of the tumor while minimizing impact to the healthy tissues of the brain. Learn more about brain tumor surgery at Siteman.

Radiation therapy for glioblastoma

Many glioblastoma patients receive radiation therapy following surgery to remove the tumor. Radiation can kill cancer cells left behind in the brain and relieve patient symptoms.

Patients with glioblastoma typically receive radiation therapy five days a week for a period of three to six weeks.

Siteman offers every type of radiation therapy available to treat glioblastoma patients. These include.

  • Intensity-modulated radiation therapy (IMRT)
  • Proton beam radiation therapy

Drug therapy for glioblastoma

In addition to radiation therapy and surgery, glioblastoma patients also benefit from treatment with medications. These medicines can help slow the progression of the disease.

Glioblastoma patients may be treated with a combination of chemotherapies and targeted therapies. Targeted therapies are drugs that attack certain features of cancer cells, disabling them and stopping them from growing.

At Siteman, some glioblastoma patients may also receive vaccines tailored to their own tumor tissue. This approach is only available in a clinical trial, but it has been shown to help glioblastoma patients survive longer with their tumor.

Clinical trials for glioblastomas

Glioblastoma research is a major area of focus for Washington University Physicians, surgeons, and scientists at Siteman. They are dedicated to finding new treatments and approaches that could lead to improved outcomes for patients.

Siteman houses more glioblastoma trials than any other facility in the region.

Some of our clinical trials are focused on:

  • Improving personalized drug therapy in glioblastoma patients.
  • Vaccines and other immunotherapy approaches
  • Combining laser interstitial thermal therapy with novel drugs or immunotherapies
  • Examining hypofractionated radiation therapy approaches in conjunction with medical therapy.