Overview

Glioblastoma is a type of cancer that starts as a growth of cells in the brain or spinal cord. It grows quickly and can invade and destroy healthy tissue. Glioblastoma forms from cells called astrocytes that support nerve cells.

Glioblastoma can happen at any age. But it tends to happen more often in older adults. Glioblastoma symptoms may include headaches that keep getting worse, nausea and vomiting, blurred or double vision, trouble speaking, altered sense of touch, and seizures. There also may be trouble with balance, coordination, and moving parts of the face or body.

There's no cure for glioblastoma. Treatments might slow cancer growth and reduce symptoms.

Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of glioblastoma may include:

  • Headache, particularly one that hurts the most in the morning.
  • Nausea and vomiting.
  • Confusion or a decline in brain function, such as problems with thinking and understanding information.
  • Memory loss.
  • Personality changes or irritability.
  • Vision changes, such as blurred vision, double vision or loss of peripheral vision.
  • Speech difficulties.
  • Trouble with balance or coordination.
  • Muscle weakness in the face, arms or legs.
  • Reduced sensation of touch.
  • Seizures, especially in someone who hasn't had seizures before.

When to see a doctor

Make an appointment with a doctor or other healthcare professional if you have any signs or symptoms that worry you.

Causes

The cause of most glioblastomas isn't known.

Glioblastoma happens when cells in the brain or spinal cord develop changes in their DNA. Healthcare professionals sometimes call these changes mutations or variations. A cell's DNA holds the instructions that tell a cell what to do. In healthy cells, the DNA gives instructions to grow and multiply at a set rate. The instructions tell the cells to die at a set time. In cancer cells, the DNA changes give different instructions. The changes tell the cancer cells to make many more cells quickly. Cancer cells can keep living when healthy cells would die. This causes too many cells.

The cancer cells form a mass called a tumor. The tumor can grow to press on nearby nerves and parts of the brain or spinal cord. This leads to glioblastoma symptoms and can cause complications. The tumor can grow to invade and destroy healthy body tissue.

Risk factors

Factors that can increase the risk of glioblastoma include:

  • Getting older. Glioblastomas are most common in older adults. But glioblastoma can happen at any age.
  • Being exposed to radiation. People who have been exposed to a type of radiation called ionizing radiation have an increased risk of glioblastoma. One example of ionizing radiation is radiation therapy used to treat cancer.
  • Inherited syndromes that increase cancer risk. In some families, DNA changes passed from parents to children may increase the risk of glioblastoma. Inherited syndromes may include Lynch syndrome and Li-Fraumeni syndrome. Genetic testing can detect these syndromes.

Researchers haven't found anything you can do to prevent glioblastoma.

June 20, 2024

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