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Researchers and Advocates Work Together to Advance Glioblastoma Understanding and Treatment

BY AMY WOLFF SORTER
PUBLISHED MONDAY, DECEMBER 2, 2013
During the spring of 2008, Edward Kennedy, the U.S. senator from Massachusetts, was diagnosed with a particularly aggressive form of brain cancer known as glioblastoma multiforme (GBM). Approximately 15 months after diagnosis, and following standard treatment consisting of surgery, radiation and chemotherapy, Kennedy died from the disease.

Close to half a decade after Senator Kennedy's death, interest has grown in the treatment of this disease. In an effort to improve outcomes for those with GBM, the National Brain Tumor Society (NTBS), a clearinghouse for information about brain cancers, has launched its "Defeat GBM Research Collaborative." This initiative is a multi-site research effort with a goal of doubling the five-year survival rate of GBM patients. To do this, the NBTS has created a network of brain tumor researchers in cancer institutions from around the world to collaboratively conduct focused research. These investigator teams, in turn, are being overseen by a group of brain cancer experts forming the Strategic Scientific Advisory Council.

[Patients and survivors connect on Twitter with #BTSM]

Improving outcomes for those diagnosed with GBM is important both to the NBTS and the specialists who diagnose and treat this disease. Patients with GBM have a median survival of fewer than 15 months and the five-year survival rate is less than 5 percent. The NTBS also classifies GBM as "the most common and deadliest of malignant primary brain tumors in adults."

The good news in GBM research is that imaging technologies developed during the latter part of the 20th century have helped researchers, clinicians and doctors better diagnosis the disease.

This type of brain cancer also has debilitative secondary impacts as well such as physical degeneration, loss of speech and motor skills. Adding to the issue is that it isn't readily diagnosed at an early and more curable stage. Often, by the time patients see a physician for blinding headaches, seizures or loss of motor skills, the cancer has already gained a solid foothold in the brain.

GBM is classified as primary or secondary. Primary glioblastomas are referred to as de novo–in other words, they develop quickly without any clinical evidence of a pre-existing, less cancerous lesion. This primary brain cancer, which is often diagnosed among older patients, accounts for approximately 60 percent of all GBM cases.

Secondary glioblastomas typically develop as a malignant progression from a low-grade astrocytoma and is found mostly in patients younger than 45 years of age. Astrocytomas are tumors that develop from astrocytes, which are, in turn, the tissues that support the brain. In addition to having different pathologies, primary and secondary GBMs differ in that the latter has a better prognosis for length of survival time.

[Read "Who's to blame for lack of brain cancer awareness?" by Liz Salmi]

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