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​Glioblastoma (Glioblastoma Multiforme)

What is Glioblastoma?

Glioblastoma, also known as glioblastoma multiforme, is the most common and most aggressive type of primary brain cancer.

It is a subtype of astrocytoma, which arises from the brain tissue and resembles astrocytes, the supportive cells that encircle and protect the nerve cells in the brain.

Glioblastomas are remarkably difficult to treat.

However, surgical removal of the glioblastoma by craniotomy can be beneficial for some people, both to alleviate symptoms associated with the tumor and to extend survival and life expectancy following radical removal.

After a diagnosis of glioblastoma, all patients will need several forms of medical care, including:

  • Fractionated radiation therapy
  • Chemotherapy
  • Additional treatment options

In most patients, image-guided craniotomy — often accompanied by careful preoperative or intraoperative brain mapping using MEG — may improve our ability to remove the glioblastoma safely.

Diagnosing Glioblastoma

To make the diagnosis of glioblastoma, your doctor will ask you about your symptoms and order imaging tests.

Symptoms of glioblastomas

Glioblastoma symptoms may include:

  • Headaches
  • Confusion
  • Seizures
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Weakness or loss of sensation in the arms and/or legs
  • Speech, vision, or memory problems
  • Personality changes

Imaging tests for diagnosing glioblastomas

Doctors can identify glioblastomas using imaging studies, such as MRI or CT scans.

Glioblastoma Treatments

Surgical removal or biopsy are standard initial treatment strategies for newly diagnosed or recurrent glioblastomas.

Commonly, we use radiation therapy and chemotherapy in conjunction with surgery to treat a glioblastoma.

Surgery for glioblastoma

The UPMC neurosurgical team will carefully evaluate you — looking at your condition from every direction — to find the path that is least disruptive to your brain, critical nerves, and ability to return to normal functioning.

Our neurosurgeons often use image-guided surgery, accompanied by pre- or intraoperative brain mapping, to improve our ability to remove the glioblastoma safely.

Gamma Knife® radiosurgery

Despite an initial multipronged treatment for glioblastomas, some people with residual tumor or tumor recurrence often need additional options.

One option is Gamma Knife radiosurgery, a painless method to non-invasively boost the effectiveness of radiation delivered to the tumor.

UPMC is the nation's leading provider of Gamma Knife procedures. Our team has treated more than 12,000 patients with tumors, vascular malformations, pain, and functional problems.

Our team may also perform stereotactic radiosurgery using the Cyberknife or other linear accelerator-based systems.

Radiation therapy and chemotherapy for treating glioblastomas

Fractionated radiation is commonly used to treat glioblastomas, either alone or in combination with surgery and/or chemotherapy.

We deliver radiation therapy:

  • Externally, by directing radiation at the glioblastoma from an outside source.
  • Internally, by placing radioactive material directly in the body near the cancer.

Chemotherapy uses drugs to stop the growth of glioblastoma cancer cells and may be taken by mouth, injected, or placed directly into the brain tumor site.

Meet Karen

Karen Amato Schwartz – Glioblastoma Patient Story

This freelance writer faced the ultimate deadline, as her team of UPMC neurosurgeons raced to remove a tennis-ball sized tumor using the Neuroendoport® approach. Discharged after two days, she began the next stage of treatment and was soon back to her normal routine.

Read more »

In The News

Cutting-edge brain imaging technology developed at the University of Pittsburgh and UPMC is helping to save cancer patients' lives.

Read the full story from CBS Pittsburgh.