Senator John McCain announced that he had been diagnosed with glioblastoma—known formally as glioblastoma multiforme, or GBM—a deadly brain tumor affecting 72,000 patients each year. The cancer was discovered in the 30-year Senate veteran after a blood clot above McCain’s left eye was found during a routine physical exam. The clot was removed by doctors at the Mayo Clinic and was determined to be linked to the disease.

What is glioblastoma?

Glioblastoma is a high grade subtype of a tumor known as astrocytoma, which grows from supporting cells in the brain known as astrocytes. Unfortunately, glioblastoma is very aggressive. It grows quickly, can easily spread to other parts of the brain and frequently recurs even after initial treatment.

Glioblastoma occurs more frequently in men than women, and represent about 15.4 percent of all primary brain tumors and about 60 to 75 percent of all astrocytomas.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms of glioblastoma may vary depending on the location of the growth and can include:

  • Behavioral or personality changes
  • Double or blurred vision
  • Headaches
  • Memory loss
  • Nausea with or without vomiting
  • Seizures
  • Speech difficulty

How is glioblastoma usually diagnosed?

After discussing symptoms—such as McCain’s, who experienced fogginess and sporadic double vision—and medical history, a neurological evaluation is required by a specialist. During the examination, the following are assessed:

  • Balance and coordination
  • Eye movement and vision
  • Hearing
  • Motor skills
  • Reflexes
  • Sensation
  • Thinking and memory

Tests will also be used to confirm a glioblastoma diagnosis, and may include:

  • Cerebral angiogram
  • Computerized tomography (CT) scan
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan
  • Spinal tap
  • Stereotactic biopsy
  • X-ray

What is the prognosis for glioblastoma?

While there are a number of factors that go into determining an individual’s prognosis, according to the American Cancer Society, the five-year survival rate for this cancer is about four percent for patients between 55 and 64 years of age.

That said, there are advances made in cancer treatment every day, such as the fascinating ongoing research happening at Duke University where scientists have modified the polio virus to potentially treat glioblastoma in certain patients.

If you or a loved one is experiencing any of the above symptoms or would like more information about glioblastoma, contact the specialists at IGEA Brain & Spine today.