7 Things to Know About Glioblastoma

News recently shocked the nation that Sen. John McCain was diagnosed with an aggressive form of brain cancer called glioblastoma. Dr. Mark Mishra, a radiation oncologist at the University of Maryland Greenebaum Comprehensive Cancer Center and Maryland Proton Treatment Center who specializes in treating brain cancer, tells you 7 things to know about glioblastoma.

  1. How common is glioblastoma?

Glioblastoma is the most common type of primary brain tumor that is diagnosed in adults.  There are estimated to be nearly 13,000 patients who will be diagnosed with a glioblastoma annually within the United States.

  1. Why is it so aggressive?

Glioblastoma can be difficult to cure with radiation and chemotherapy.  In spite of surgery, radiation and chemotherapy, the tumor most commonly recurs within the same part of the brain where the tumor first started.

  1. What are the symptoms?

Symptoms can vary from patient to the patient, depending upon the size and location of the tumor.  Symptoms include persistent headaches and nausea, speech  and/or vision changes, confusion,  personality changes, or weakness in the arms or legs.

  1. How is it typically treated?

The optimal treatment for a glioblastoma is surgery, followed by 6 weeks of radiation delivered daily, Monday-Friday, with concurrent chemotherapy.  This is typically followed by additional chemotherapy, for at least 6 months.

  1. Has any progress been made in developing new treatments?

Prior to 2004, there was no effective chemotherapy to treat glioblastoma.  A large study conducted in Europe demonstrated improved cure rates when patients are treated with an oral chemotherapy drug (Temozolomide) during and after radiation therapy.  Most recently, a large study also demonstrated improved cure rates with the use of tumor-treating fields after completion of radiation therapy.

Due to the aggressive nature of glioblastoma, we are actively conducting clinical trials at the University of Maryland School of Medicine to better identify ways to improve cure rates and quality-of-life for patients with glioblastoma.

Current studies that are open at the University of Maryland School of Medicine include:

  • NRG-BN002: A study to evaluate the role of immunotherapy for patients with glioblastoma
  • NRG-BN001: A study to evaluate the benefit of high-dose radiation therapy with proton beam therapy compared to standard radiation for glioblastoma patients
  • 1224GCC: A study to evaluate the role of low-dose whole brain radiation for patients with a newly diagnosed glioblastoma
  • 1344GCC: A study to evaluate the role of tumor-treating fields, bevacizumab, and radiation for patients with a recurrent glioblastoma
  1. Is immunotherapy an option?

The benefit of immunotherapy for this diagnosis is still being evaluated in clinical trials.  We are currently conducting clinical trials to help better determine if this is an effective treatment for patients with a glioblastoma.

  1. What is the prognosis?

A patient’s prognosis can vary depending upon the patient’s age, ability to undergo and complete treatment, as well as molecular alterations within with the tumor.  The median survival time for patients with a glioblastoma who undergo treatment ranges from 15-20 months.  Ten percent of patients will survive five years after diagnosis.

Learn more about the University of Maryland Brain Tumor Treatment and Research Center.

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