Learning more about your glioblastoma multiforme and available treatment options is a great way to take a more active role in your health. Having a better understanding of your condition and how it is managed can help you have confidence in your treatment, relieving some of the stress you may be feeling during this time.
The following information will provide a general overview of glioblastoma multiforme and how it develops, as well as a discussion of the treatment path that most patients can expect to follow. This goal is to help you appreciate why your doctor has made the recommendations he or she has, allowing you to feel more comfortable with your upcoming procedures.
About Glioblastoma Multiforme
Glioblastoma multiforme is a type of primary brain cancer, which means that it originated from cells within the brain as opposed to spreading from elsewhere in the body. These tumors are a different type of astrocytoma and part of a larger group of tumors known as gliomas. They grow from astrocytes, which are specialized, star-shaped cells that help provide support to the brain and are the most common form of primary brain tumors in adults.
There are four grades of astrocytoma, which are determined based on how aggressive the tumor is. Glioblastoma multiforme is a grade IV astrocytoma, the most aggressive, and is capable of spreading very quickly. This is why an intensive glioblastoma multiforme treatment regimen must be initiated as soon as possible following your diagnosis.
In order to confirm your glioblastoma multiforme diagnosis, your doctor will need to take a biopsy and send it to a pathologist, who will examine it under a microscope for the presence of certain characteristics, such as dead and dying cells. Your doctor may obtain a tissue sample during surgical removal of your tumor, or it may be accomplished using a needle biopsy if surgery is not part of your treatment plan.
Glioblastoma Multiforme Treatment Options
Because of its aggressive nature, glioblastoma multiforme is most often treated using a multi-stage approach that includes surgery, radiation therapy and oral chemotherapy. Though your individual treatment plan may differ slightly, the following glioblastoma multiforme treatment overview will be appropriate for approximately 90 percent of patients.
Phase 1 – Surgical Resection
For most patients, the first step in glioblastoma multiforme treatment involves the surgical removal, or resection, of as much of the tumor as safely possible. Because glioblastoma multiforme often invades surrounding tissues, it can be difficult to remove the entirety of the tumor without causing damage to delicate nerves, vessels and other tissues in the area.
If your diagnosis has not been confirmed at the time of surgery, your doctor may send a piece of the tumor to a pathologist for a definitive diagnosis, as described above. This diagnosis will help direct further steps in your treatment should your glioblastoma multiforme still be an unconfirmed working diagnosis.
Some patients may not be surgical candidates because of individual health factors, such as advanced age or existing health conditions. Should this be the case, your doctor may suggest avoiding surgery if possible, though most patients will ultimately benefit from and undergo surgical resection.
Phase 2 – Radiation Therapy
Because glioblastoma surgery alone cannot eradicate all of the tumor cells, you will also likely undergo adjunctive therapies immediately following resection. Most patients with glioblastoma multiforme will receive fractionated radiation therapy, which means high doses of radiation are delivered to a small area of the brain, as opposed to whole-brain radiation therapy.
A typical course of radiation therapy lasts for six weeks, with multiple visits per week. For patients with a lower radiation tolerance due to advanced age or complicating health conditions, your doctor may modify your radiation treatment schedule as appropriate. However, most patients can expect to undergo the typical six-week course.
Phase 3 – Oral Chemotherapy
Following your surgery, you will also likely begin taking oral chemotherapeutics. This is in conjunction with your radiation therapy and also typically lasts for six weeks, though some patients will require a longer course of medication.
The most commonly used medication is temozolomide (Temodar), which is a pill you take orally once a day. Most patients are able to tolerate temozolomide very well, and it is an effective glioblastoma multiforme treatment without the severe side effects that have become part of the standard regimen.
Your Glioblastoma Multiforme Treatment Path
No two patients are exactly the same, and the treatment plan your doctor develops for you may vary slightly from what has been outlined here. You may not be a good candidate for surgery or may have a reduced tolerance for radiation therapy. Should this be the case, your doctor will determine the glioblastoma multiforme course of treatment that will be most safe and effective in your individual case.
Should you have any questions, be sure to bring them up with your doctor at your next appointment. It’s important that you are comfortable with your treatment, and your doctor will be able to help set your mind at ease regarding any outstanding concerns you may have.