The median survival time with glioblastoma


Glioblastoma, also known as glioblastoma multiforme (GBM), is the most aggressive cancer that begins within the brain. Initially, signs and symptoms of glioblastoma are nonspecific. They may include headaches, personality changes, nausea, and symptoms similar to those of a stroke. Worsening of symptoms often is rapid, and may progress to unconsciousness. The cause of most cases is unclear. Uncommon risk factors include genetic disorders, such as neurofibromatosis and Li–Fraumeni syndrome, and previous radiation therapy. Glioblastomas represent 15% of brain tumors. They can either start from normal brain cells or develop from an existing low-grade astrocytoma. The diagnosis typically is made by a combination of CT scan, MRI scan, and tissue biopsy.

Common symptoms include seizures, headaches, nausea and vomiting, memory loss, changes to personality, mood or concentration, and localized neurological problems. The kind of symptoms produced depends more on the location of the tumor than on its pathological properties. The tumor can start producing symptoms quickly, but occasionally is an asymptomatic condition until it reaches an enormous size.

The cellular origin of glioblastoma is unknown. Because of the similarities in immunostaining of glial cells and glioblastoma, gliomas such as glioblastoma have long been assumed to originate from glial-type cells. More recent studies suggest that astrocytes, oligodendrocyte progenitor cells, and neural stem cells could all serve as the cell of origin. Glioblastomas are characterized by the presence of small areas of necrotizing tissue that are surrounded by anaplastic cells. This characteristic, as well as the presence of hyperplastic blood vessels, differentiates the tumor from grade 3 astrocytomas, which do not have these features. GBMs usually form in the cerebral white matter, grow quickly, and can become very large before producing symptoms. Fewer than 10% form more slowly following degeneration of low-grade astrocytoma or anaplastic astrocytoma. These are called secondary GBMs and are more common in younger patients (mean age 45 versus 62 years).

The tumor may extend into the meninges or ventricular wall, leading to high protein content in the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) (> 100 mg/dl), as well as an occasional pleocytosis of 10 to 100 cells, mostly lymphocytes. Malignant cells carried in the CSF may spread (rarely) to the spinal cord or cause meningeal gliomatosis. However, metastasis of GBM beyond the central nervous system is extremely unusual. About 50% of GBMs occupy more than one lobe of a hemisphere or are bilateral. Tumors of this type usually arise from the cerebrum and may exhibit the classic infiltration across the corpus callosum, producing a butterfly (bilateral) glioma.

Glioblastoma cells with properties similar to stem cells (glioblastoma cancer stem cells) have been found in glioblastomas. Their presence, coupled with the glioblastomas diffuse nature results in difficulty in removing them completely by surgery, and is therefore believed to be the possible cause behind resistance to conventional treatments, and the high recurrence rate. Glioblastoma cancer stem cells share some resemblance with neural progenitor cells, both expressing the surface receptor CD133.

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Journal of Clinical Oncology and Cancer Research,

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