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​Glioblastoma (Glioblastoma Multiforme)

Glioblastoma is a rare but aggressive brain tumor most common in people over the age of 60. Doctors don't know what causes this type of tumor to form.

Glioblastoma is a hard diagnosis to accept, but we have ways to treat it. As a research institution, we're always making new discoveries about cancers like glioblastoma.

We offer the latest treatments, including advanced neurosurgery and Gamma Knife radiosurgery. UPMC is the nation's leading provider of Gamma Knife treatments.

UPMC's neurosurgery team is among the best. We'll be with you every step of the way to explain treatment options and offer support.

Contact Us the UPMC Department of Neurosurgery

  • 412-647-3685 (within the U.S.) 
  • 01-877-320-8762 (international)
  • Fill out our online form.

What Is Glioblastoma?

Glioblastoma, also known as glioblastoma multiforme, is a malignant (cancerous) brain tumor. It's the most common and most aggressive type of primary brain cancer.

A glioblastoma is a type of astrocytoma, which is a tumor that occurs from the brain tissue itself. It can grow fast because it has a rich blood vessel supply.

Glioblastomas are tough to treat. They often start as grade 4 tumors.

There are pros to removing this tumor through surgery. For some people, surgery can reduce symptoms from the tumor. It can also extend survival and life expectancy after radical removal.

After doctors diagnose glioblastoma, they'll suggest several types of treatment, including:

  • Radiation therapy.
  • Chemotherapy.
  • Other treatment options.

Most people with glioblastoma will have a craniotomy. During this surgery, doctors open the skull to take out the tumor. Surgeons use advanced imaging techniques to help guide this treatment.

Surgeons may also do intraoperative brain mapping. You're awake (but comfortable) for this surgery and can talk. This helps the surgeon map your language function.

How Common is glioblastoma multiforme?

Glioblastoma is the most common malignant primary brain tumor and accounts for almost 50% of cancerous brain tumors.

It's still a rare type of cancer, with three in every 100,000 people having it. (To compare, the risk for lung cancer is one in 15 for men and one in 17 for women.)

Glioblastoma Multiforme Causes

Doctors don't know what causes a glioblastoma tumor to form. Most people with glioblastoma have no clear risk factors or family history of cancer.

Glioblastoma Multiforme Risk Factors

Doctors know of a few risk factors for getting glioblastoma:

  • Having had prior radiation therapy for childhood brain tumors.
  • Having a hereditary cancer syndrome, including Lynch syndrome and Li-Fraumeni syndrome.

Glioblastomas are also slightly more common men than women.

Symptoms of Glioblastomas

Glioblastoma symptoms vary, but they tend to come on quickly. This is because once the tumor forms, it grows fast and can press on parts of the brain.

Headaches may be the first symptoms. Other symptoms may include:

  • Confusion.
  • Seizures.
  • Nausea or vomiting.
  • Weakness or loss of feeling in the arms and/or legs.
  • Speech, sight, or memory problems.
  • Personality changes.

When to See a Doctor for Symptoms

Make an appointment to see your doctor if you have symptoms of glioblastoma. The sooner treatment starts, the better the chance of extending survival.

Diagnosing Glioblastoma

To diagnose glioblastoma, your doctor will ask about your symptoms. They'll do an exam to check your vision, reflexes, and other neurological functions.

Your doctor will also order imaging studies, such as:

  • Standard MRI, to pinpoint where the tumor is and tell doctors how high the tumor grade is.
  • Specialized MRIs, such as a functional MRI, which lights up the parts of the brain you use in different tasks.
  • CT scan.

Your doctor may also do a biopsy before treatment or as part of your treatment. A biopsy removes a small piece of the tumor to study it.

Glioblastoma Multiforme Treatment

Surgical removal or biopsy are standard initial treatments for newly diagnosed glioblastomas or tumors that recur.

Your treatment will depend on where the tumor is and its size and grade. Your doctor will also take into account your overall health and quality of life.

It's common to use radiation therapy and chemotherapy along with surgery to treat a glioblastoma.

Surgery for glioblastoma

The neurosurgical team will take a careful look at your health problem from every angle. Our goal is to find the path that least disrupts your brain, critical nerves, and ability to return to normal functioning.

Our neurosurgeons often use image-guided surgery, along with pre- or intraoperative brain mapping, to remove the glioblastoma safely.

Gamma Knife® radiosurgery

Even with the initial types of treatments for glioblastomas, people with residual tumor or a tumor that recurs often need more 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 treatments. Our team has treated more than 12,000 people with tumors, vascular malformations, pain, and functional problems.

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

Radiation therapy

Fractionated radiation is a common treatment for glioblastomas, either alone or with surgery and/or chemotherapy.

We deliver radiation therapy:

  • Externally. We direct radiation at the tumor from an outside source.
  • Internally. We place radioactive material in the body near the cancer.


Chemotherapy uses drugs to stop the growth of glioblastoma cancer cells. Chemotherapy drugs may be:

  • Taken by mouth.
  • Injected.
  • Placed directly into the brain tumor site.

The current chemotherapy standard of treatment for glioblastoma is temozolomide. People may take it daily during radiation therapy, and then take a maintenance dose for several months. If the tumor begins to grow again, doctors may also prescribe the drug lomustine.

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.