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What Is Glioma Multiforme?

Stem cells have been used to increase the survival rate of mice with glioblastoma multiforme.
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  • Written By: L. Whitaker
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 29 September 2014
  • Copyright Protected:
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    Conjecture Corporation
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Glioma multiforme, also called glioblastoma multiforme or GBM, is the most common type of aggressive brain tumor that occurs in adults. It is categorized as a grade IV astrocytoma, indicating that it is a fast-moving cancer that spreads into neighboring tissues and cannot be completely removed through surgery. Glioma multiforme generally occurs in the brain tissues, although it is sometimes found in the spinal cord. It is a primary brain tumor that originates from brain tissue and should not be confused with metastatic cancer, which spreads to the brain from another originating location in the body.

Potential symptoms of glioma multiforme or other types of brain tumors could include a variety of neurological changes. The individual might develop a pattern of frequent and severe headaches that could be accompanied by vision problems or vomiting. He or she could exhibit personality changes, confusion in performing daily activities, or difficulty with speech, hearing, or balance. In a person with no previous history of seizure activity, the sudden onset of seizures could also be an indicator of a brain tumor.

To diagnose glioma multiforme or another primary brain tumor, doctors use a neurological exam to assess the individual's reflexes, coordination, balance, sight, and hearing. Medical imaging such as an MRI, CT scan, or PET scan could be used to identify the tumor's size and location. A surgical biopsy might also be performed to further confirm the tumor type.

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Where possible, the surgical removal of the tumor is typically the first approach to treating brain cancer. However, because glioma multiforme generally invades surrounding tissues, it is unlikely that surgery will effectively contain the tumor. Thus, treatment goals usually include an attempt to remove as many cancerous cells as possible and then slow the growth of the remaining tumor. As the tumor could begin to grow again at some point, treatment is intended to extend life where possible.

Radiation therapy, chemotherapy, or experimental treatments might be recommended in addition to surgery. The individual will require rehabilitation, such as physical therapy or speech therapy, to regain all or most normal function after surgery. Typically, a baseline MRI will be done within a few days of surgery to be used as a comparison for monitoring future tumor activity.

Glioma multiforme is considered a high-grade or grade IV cancer. Grades III and IV indicate fast-moving tumors. Grade II is assessed to be slow-moving but likely to spread into surrounding tissues and to recur after treatment. Grade I or low-grade cancer is slow-moving and unlikely to spread.

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