Brain Cancer – Glioblastoma (GBM)
- Brain tumors are classified by the types of cells within the tumor. Brain tumors are abnormal cells within the brain, some of which are noncancerous (benign) and some that are cancerous. Each type of brain tumor grows and is treated in a different way.
- Primary brain cancers, those that begin in the brain itself, occur when normal cells have mutations in their DNA that lead to the rapid growth and division of news cells, resulting in a mass of abnormal cells, or a tumor.
- More common than primary brain tumors, secondary tumors, those that begin elsewhere and metastasize to the brain, most often occur in those who have a history of cancer.
- Glioblastoma, also called glioblastoma multiforme, or GBM, is the most aggressive type of primary brain tumor. While GBM is rare, it is the most common type of primary brain cancer in adults. Approximately 12,500 new cases of GBM or brain tumors that may progress to GBM are diagnosed in the United States each year.
Signs and Symptoms
Brain tumor symptoms vary from person to person. Brain tumor symptoms depend on the area of the brain affected. Symptoms may include:
- Headaches, which are often the first symptom. A headache due to a brain tumor usually becomes more frequent as time passes. It may not get better with over the counter pain medicine and it may come with nausea or vomiting. It can get worse when you lie down, bend over or bear down, such as when you have a bowel movement.
- Seizures can take many different forms, such as numbness, tingling, uncontrollable arm and leg movements, difficulty speaking, strange smells or sensations, staring and unresponsive episodes or convulsions.
- Changes in mental function, mood or personality. You may become withdrawn, moody or inefficient at work. You may feel drowsy, confused and unable to think. Depression and anxiety, especially if either develops suddenly, may be an early symptom of a brain tumor. You may become uninhibited or behave in ways you never have before.
- Changes in speech (trouble finding words, talking incoherently, inability to express or understand language)
- Changes in the ability to hear, smell or see, including double or blurred vision
- Loss of balance or coordination
- Change in the ability to feel heat, cold, pressure, a light touch or sharp objects
- Changes in pulse and breathing rates if brain tumor compresses the brain stem
These symptoms do not always mean you have a brain tumor. However, it is important to discuss any symptoms with your doctor, since they may signal other health problems.
Generally, a person with GBM would undergo a maximal debulking surgery, a six-week course of External Beam Radiation Therapy combined with Temodar (an oral chemo therapy).
In 2015, the FDA approved the use of Optune for people diagnosed with GBM. The Optune cap is a portable, noninvasive device that delivers low-intensity, wave-like electric fields called Tumor-Treating fields at a frequency that is specific to the “glial cell.” The alternating current within Tumor Treating fields will disrupt the replicating structures within the cancer cells causing cell death. Optune has increased the survival rate, so that 48 percent live longer than two years. Some patients have reached five years and the longest surviving patient is 10 years.
Bill Morgan was diagnosed with glioblastoma multiforme (GBM) in 2007. Still in treatment, Missouri Cancer Associates patient Bill shares his story and hopes to inspire others.
To read Bill’s story, visit his survivor story.