Glioblastoma an aggressive cancer

Slides of a 2012 glioblastoma case are seen as an example in this College of American Pathologists image released from Northfield, on July 20, 2017.
Slides of a 2012 glioblastoma case are seen as an example in this College of American Pathologists image released from Northfield, on July 20, 2017. PHOTO: REUTERS

WHAT IS GLIOBLASTOMA?

It is an aggressive cancer that is the most common of all malignant brain tumours. The tumours arise from the brain's glial cells, which are cells that are wrapped around neurons throughout the central nervous system.

Typically, said Dr Matthias Holdhoff, associate professor of oncology at Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Centre at Johns Hopkins University, "the tumours are considered not curable". Unlike most other cancers, brain tumours do not spread to other parts of the body. They kill by interfering with normal body function, depending on their location.

WHAT ARE SOME SYMPTOMS?

Depending on the location of the tumour, a patient can have seizures, headaches, blurred vision and confusion.

HOW IS IT TREATED?

The first step is surgery to remove as much of the tumour as possible. But as the cancer has "extensions" that spread throughout the brain tissue, excising every bit of the malignancy is difficult, Dr Holdhoff said. After surgery, patients typically receive six weeks of oral chemotherapy and radiation. Sometimes, that course of treatment is reduced to three weeks for older people. After that, most patients get chemotherapy several days a month for an additional six months.

The median survival time following that treatment is about 15 to 16 months, Dr Holdhoff said.

WHAT ABOUT IMMUNOTHERAPY?

While there are many clinical trials testing immunotherapy for glioblastoma, so far, the studies have not shown a meaningful survival benefit, experts say.

WASHINGTON POST

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 21, 2017, with the headline 'Glioblastoma an aggressive cancer'. Print Edition | Subscribe