Glioblastomas are a type of glioma, a tumor that occurs in the brain or spinal cord. Because they make their own blood, they are especial dangerous and fast growing. While a wide range of treatments exists, there are, unfortunately, very few effective options because of the placement, shape, and aggressive nature of glioblastoma.
Symptomatic treatment may be used to control brain swelling, behavioral and cognitive deficits, or seizures. While steroids are a very simple method for the swelling, medications for other symptoms can have serious long term effects; however, given the malignancy of such tumors, these may be less important than other considerations, like quality of life.
Surgery is often the first line of defense, but it is extremely difficult with glioblastomas. They form tentacle-like appendages. This makes it very difficult to remove the tumor in its entirety, especially without causing additional damage to the brain. It is not always possible to achieve complete removal. However, even taking out some of it may relieve symptoms. It is important to note, however, that many brain surgeries must be performed while the patient is awake; surgical assistants encourage movement and talking to ensure no damage has occurred. The ever-present surgical risks of infection and bleeding must also be taken into consideration.
Radiation therapy may be used by emitting high energy beams at the tumor. There are several different types of radiation, and the most effective and appropriate depends on the type of tumor, patient factors, and tumor grade. It may be used to remove the tumor, to remove what is left over after surgery, or simply to slow down the tumor’s growth. Radiation therapy may cause additional headaches, increased tiredness, and sensitivity of the scalp.
Chemotherapy is an additional treatment option, and although the side effects of this are often considerable, scientists have greatly decreased its toxicity. However, hair loss and feeling ill are still part of the package. It is often used in tandem with radiation therapy, taken either orally or as an injection, to targets and kill cancerous cells. Glioblastoma chemotherapy generally uses the drug Temozolomide, which is a pill. Targeted drug therapies block the abnormalities in cancer cells; in glioblastoma, the blood supply to the tumor is cut off, so it can no longer create new cells and killing the old ones.