Glioblastomas are tumors that arise from astrocytes, which are the star-shaped cells that make up the supportive tissue of the brain. These tumors are usually highly malignant (cancerous) because the cells reproduce quickly and because glioblastomas are supported by a large network of blood vessels. In addition, because glioblastomas have finger-like tentacles, they are very difficult to completely remove surgically, especially when they grow near parts of the brain that control important functions.
Glioblastomas can be difficult to treat because the tumors contain many different types of cells, some of which may respond well to certain therapies, while others do not. Therefore, glioblastoma treatment may combine several different approaches, including:
Surgery, which is done to relieve pressure on the brain and safely remove as much of the tumor as possible
Chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy may be used to slow the growth of tumors that cannot be removed with surgery
Stereotactic radiotherapy is an advanced technique that uses highly focused x-ray beams to administer a large dose of radiation directly at tumor cells
Medications may include steroids to treat and prevent swelling of brain tissue, anti-seizure medication to treat and prevent seizures, and antibiotics to prevent and treat infection
Newer glioblastoma treatment approaches include targeted therapy, or drugs that target the growth pathways of glioblastomas. Combinations of these drugs in a "cocktail" may be used to block several growth pathways at once. Other targeted therapies used in glioblastoma treatment act to prevent the growth of blood vessels that support tumors, essentially starving them.
The Brain Tumor Center at Brigham and Women's Hospital offers compassionate and state-of-the-art glioblastoma treatment as well as treatment to manage the neurologic complications of the tumors and their treatment.
In this video, E. Antonio Chiocca, MD, PhD, Chair of the Department of Neurosurgery and Co-Director of the Institute for the Neurosciences at Brigham and Women's Hospital, describes the current standard of care for malignant gliomas and research of new treatments. A promising new approach in the treatment of malignant glioma is called oncolytic virotherapy and involves the use of common viruses to treat malignant gliomas. Read the Advancing Malignant Gliomas Treatment Video Transcript.
Brigham and Women's Hospital: comprehensive glioblastoma treatment
The Brain Tumor Center at Brigham and Women's Hospital treats between 200 and 300 patients with glioblastomas each year. Our Boston neurology brain cancer specialists at the Center work closely together with radiation oncologists, social workers, and nurse practitioners to ensure that every patient receives individualized glioblastoma treatment. In addition, we recently opened the Advanced Multimodality Image Guided Operating (AMIGO) suite, AMIGO allows our Boston neurosurgeons to directly visualize the tumor and normal brain during surgery so that they can safely remove more of the tumor than is possible without such state-of-the art equipment.
The Brain Tumor Center performs many other complex surgeries, including skull base surgery for tumors affecting the cranial base, pituitary tumor surgery, and minimally invasive procedures to treat patients with a variety of brain tumors.
Clinical research into glioblastoma treatment
Brigham and Women's Hospital has researchers dedicated to studying brain cancers and finding effective new treatment modalities, including glioblastoma treatment. Areas of focus include developing and refining new surgical and radiation techniques, developing new therapies that help the immune system fight cancer, and studying the genetics of brain cancers.