According to Marla Ahlgrimm, brain cancer is actually quite rare. However, when a woman or man does get cancer of the brain, there is around a 20% chance that it will be glioblastoma. Unfortunately, although science does know quite a bit about this condition, it’s highly aggressive, and there is no cure.
Q: Where does glioblastoma form?
Marla Ahlgrimm: Typically, a glioblastoma cancer will begin around the cerebrum. This is the largest part of the brain. As an astrocytoma, glioblastoma grows in star-shaped cells that turn into tumors that do not require an outside blood supply; they make their own. This contributes to the aggressiveness and mortality rates.
Q: How common is brain cancer?
Marla Ahlgrimm: Brain cancer is exceedingly rare, but doctors in the US diagnose around 14,000 glioblastoma cancers each year. Women are less likely than men to get glioblastoma, but it is possible, and it’s wise to know the symptoms.
Q: What are the symptoms of glioblastoma?
Marla Ahlgrimm: Glioblastoma has many symptoms, and it often begins with a headache. Many women also experience aphasia (garbled speech) seizures, problems concentrating, a stark change in personality, trouble with their vision, and vomiting. Sometimes, the symptoms of a glioblastoma come on suddenly.
Q: Are there any risk factors?
Marla Ahlgrimm: While no one can predict who will experience glioblastoma cancer, women with certain types of conditions, including neurofibromatosis or Turcot Syndrome, may be more at risk. Further, those who have had previous radiation to the head for prior brain tumors may also be at a higher risk of a glioblastoma later in life.
Q: What is the most common age that people are diagnosed with glioblastoma?
Marla Ahlgrimm: Glioblastoma can affect anyone at any time, but it is most common in people who are 50 or older. Glioblastoma is more prevalent among those with a Caucasian background.
Q: What are the two types of glioblastoma?
Marla Ahlgrimm: Primary and secondary. Primary glioblastoma makes up nine out of 10 cases. This is a fast-growing tumor that can trigger a short life expectancy of approximately one to three years. Secondary glioblastoma tends to form in the spinal cord and has a slightly better prognosis.
Q: What stage is glioblastoma?
Marla Ahlgrimm: Unlike other cancers, glioblastoma is not rated in stages. Instead, brain cancers are graded. Doctors assigned a number from 1 to 4 on the type of cancer based on its appearance under a close visual inspection using a microscope. By default, glioblastoma are type four. This is the worst type of cancer, and people with glioblastoma have an average lifespan of less than nine months after diagnosis. Unfortunately, even with current treatments, glioblastoma is always lethal.
Q: What can prolong a person’s life span?
Marla Ahlgrimm: Surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy are the first three lines of defense against glioblastoma. However, it’s important to keep in mind that the goal is not survival but to prolong life. Unfortunately, other therapies, including electric field therapy, which was recently approved by the FDA, may decrease quality of life. Some people choose to forgo therapies so that they can enjoy the time they have left.
Q: How do I interact with someone with glioblastoma cancer?
Marla Ahlgrimm: The most important thing you can do to someone facing a life-ending diagnosis is to listen and be there when they need you. Don’t try and insert your opinions on how you think they should go about treatment. Trust that they know what’s best, and, remember, if they choose to forgo or stop treatment, their goal is likely to preserve quality of life instead of extending the quantity of their years.